Awareness for better health

Awareness for better health

HIV stands for Human Immunodeficiency Virus. It is this virus that causes AIDS or Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome, a life-threatening disease. Although AIDS is a potentially serious condition with no cure, people with HIV/AIDS are now living longer and healthier lives thanks to new and effective medicines. There are approximately 40 million people living with HIV/AIDS worldwide, of which 2.5 million people are in India.

Understanding AIDS
The human body has a way of fighting disease and protecting itself against infection. When a virus enters the body, the defense mechanism attacks and kills it. The most important component of the body’s immune system is a cell called CD4.
Usually, the number of CD4 cells in a healthy body ranges from 500 to 1800 per ml of blood.

The virus starts attacking CD4 cells by multiplying within them and destroying them. Over the  years, the number of CD4 cells starts falling. The immune system becomes weak, with the result that the body can’t fight infections and diseases any more. This leads to the development of certain diseases that typically affect people with HIV like tuberculosis, diarrhoea, pneumonia, fungal infections and herpes.
Many of the germs that cause these illnesses are quite harmless to people who have a normal immune system. But if the body’s immune system has been compromised by HIV, it can cause severe, life-threatening diseases. Being HIV+ means that the person is infected with the virus. However, when various diseases begin to appear, or when the CD4 cell count falls to less than 200, it is called AIDS. From the time the person is infected with the virus, it may take 5 to 10 years for AIDS to develop.
HIV is transmitted in the following ways:

*Unprotected sexual intercourse (without a condom) with a person who is already infected with HIV (homosexual or heterosexual).
*By receiving infected blood through a blood transfusion.
*By sharing needles with a HIV+ person.
*A pregnant woman who is HIV+ may pass on the virus to her newborn baby.
*Medical staff may get infected when their skin is accidentally pierced by infected needles or other instruments.

Testing methods
Screening for HIV is done through a special blood test called the Elisa test. If the result of this test is positive, the doctor may order another test called the Western Blot to confirm the diagnosis. If both tests are positive, it means the person is infected with the virus.

HIV+ people must undergo counselling; as the knowledge that they are HIV+ may make them terribly depressed, sad or angry. They must be referred to a doctor who has experience in treating patients with HIV/ AIDS.
Once the diagnosis of HIV has been confirmed, the doctor will talk to the patient about the various aspects of living with HIV/AIDS. He may ask for additional blood tests — mainly the CD4 cell count and Viral load tests.
The CD4 cell count tells the doctor about the number of CD4 cells the patient has, and thereby the strength of his immune system. Viral load tests measure the amount of HIV in the patient’s blood. Both these tests help the doctor decide when to start treatment.

Treatment protocol
Drugs used to treat HIV are called anti-retroviral drugs. The treatment regimen used worldwide is called HAART (highly active anti-retroviral therapy) — a cocktail of drugs given as combination therapy for HIV/AIDS. Most of these drugs, though very expensive, are now available in India
The doctor may discuss other issues with the patient before starting treatment. These include the number of pills to be taken every day, side-effects of the drugs, the recurring monthly cost of drugs, as well as the cost of tests the patient needs to undergo regularly. The drugs may have side-effects like nausea, vomiting, skin rash, or loss of appetite.

Anti-HIV drugs slow down the multiplication of the virus in the body. This reduces the damage to the immune system, making it stronger, thereby enabling it to fight infections and disease. They increase the patient’s life span and improve his quality of life.

Once the patient is started on medication, the CD4 count and viral load are measured at regular intervals of 3-6 months. If the drugs are effective, the CD4 count will increase and the viral load will fall. If the patient was very sick and had lost considerable weight, he will begin to feel better and gain weight. It is very important to take these drugs in the right dose and at the right time, as recommended by the doctor. Skipping the medication could lead to a renewed multiplication of the virus, or the virus could become resistant to the drugs, making them ineffective.
It is very important for the patient to maintain good health as it helps his immune system fight HIV/AIDS better.

*Good nutrition
*Quit smoking
*Exercise and rest
*Prayer and meditation
*Hygiene
*Reduce stress
*Avoid alcohol and drugs

The patient should always consult his doctor before opting for alternative or unconventional treatments for AIDS.
Besides the search for a cure, there is a lot of ongoing research on vaccines for prevention of HIV infection. It is not known what the effect of an AIDS vaccine will be on a person who is already infected with HIV.

People living with HIV/AIDS    > 40 million   
Adults living with HIV/AIDS    > 30 million   
Women living with HIV/AIDS    > 15 million   
Men living with HIV/AIDS    > 15 million   
Children living with HIV/AIDS    = 2 million   
AIDS deaths    = 2 million   
AIDS orphans    =  15 million    
ART coverage rate    =   31%
People receiving ART    = 3 million    

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