While HIV should not be seen as a death sentence, one’s health is dependent upon the daily taking of ARV’s. Without such treatment, HIV will eventually overwhelm one’s immune system. This then leads to being diagnosed with Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS). People with AIDS have severely compromised immune systems which lead to infections, malignancies and ultimately death.
By taking one’s HIV treatment conscientiously upon diagnosis and following a healthy lifestyle with regard to sexual practice, exercise and a healthy diet, one may maintain one’s health for as long as possible. However, as one’s immune system is weakened, it does make one more susceptible to contracting various HIV related illnesses. While ARV’s significantly reduce the risk of HIV transmission, many infected people may unfortunately either be diagnosed too late, or not access the treatment that is available and highly necessary in saving their lives.
People host many germs in their bodies. A healthy immune system with an adequate number of functioning CD4+ T cells, can control these germs, but when the immune system is weakened by HIV, these germs can get out of control and cause health problems. Infections that take advantage of weakness in the immune defences are called ‘opportunistic.’
However, a person can be infected with HIV, but not yet have AIDS, because the virus has not yet severely weakened the immune system. The disease usually follows a five-stage progression.
Initail stages of infection
The initial stage is known as the Acute Infection Stage. This occurs within two to four weeks after being infected with HIV. The symptoms are like a bad flu and have been described as “the worst flu ever.” During this phase, large amounts of virus are being produced in the body, attacking CD4 T cells, which are one type of cell that makes up the immune system. Eventually the body brings the virus back down to low levels, and the CD4 T cell count increases.
It is best to be armed with the facts so that one has the knowledge of what may be contracted from the early stages of diagnosis.
It is common that various skin conditions may be contracted. These include rashes and ulcers, warts and raised patches, viral skin conditions, bacterial, fungal and parasitic diseases and Kaposi Sarcoma — an AIDS-defining skin cancer. These may differ in appearance from painless red rashes to dark purple blotches that signify life-threatening cancer. Some may not even display symptoms, thus the importance of getting oneself checked if exposed to this, is essential.