AIDS – facts and prevention

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Dr. Sunil Havannavar, Consultant – Internal Medicine at Columbia Asia Hospital – Sarjapur Road

Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS) is caused by the Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) virus and is a disease of the immune system. The HIV virus slowly and gradually attacks the immune system rendering the body defenceless against any infection and weakens the immune system to an extent that it eventually leads to death.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO is a United Nations body), there are about 36.7 million people in the world suffering from AIDS. About a million people die of the disease every year and about 1.8 million people are infected with the virus annually. However, the average number of new infections has considerably decreased in the 21st century especially due to the advancement in the field of medicine that helps prolong a patient’s life and ensures a better quality of life.

It is unclear how the HIV virus has come into existence but it is believed by researches that the virus was first found in gorillas and chimpanzees in Africa. AIDS is transmissible by body fluids such as blood, semen or other genital excretions and breast milk. The most common factor responsible for the spread of AIDS from one person to another is due to sexual contact with an infected person. It is also commonly spread by use of infected needles and syringes by people who take drugs and share the same needles amongst a group and from mother to child during labour.

A common misconception about contracting AIDS is casual physical contact. The disease does not spread by casual contact like shaking hands or embracing an infected person. It also does not spread due to exposure to cough and sneeze of a person infected with the HIV virus. After the infection, the virus starts multiplying rapidly and gives symptoms like fever, joint pain, sore throat, muscle ache and rashes. These problems stay persistent for about two weeks. In later stages, HIV infection causes serious health issues, major infections and in some cases cancers. It leaves the immune system heavily damaged. The percentage of people who are able to survive the infection for more than ten years is minimal. Due to the rapidly mutating infectious cells and an unequipped immune system, the body does not really have a tendency to build a defence against any infection that enters the body. The body thus becomes a breeding house for health problems with actually no solution for it.

Dr. Sunil Havannavar, Consultant – Internal Medicine at Columbia Asia Hospital – Sarjapur Road says: “Due to a lot of extensive research and advancement in science and technology in recent years, there are medicines (antiretroviral drugs) that help in slowing down multiplication of the virus in the body and the progression of the disease. One should always use a fresh needle/syringe and avoid unsafe sexual contacts. There are also methods that reduce the chances of a baby contracting HIV through mother.”