( By Dr. Vithal Prabhu )

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HIV is a short form of Human Immunodeficiency Virus. AIDs is an acronym for Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome. This is also a sexually transmitted disease. HIV is the name of the virus that causes the disease. The virus remains in the blood of the infected person. It grows there and is excreted out through the body fluids like tears, breast-milk, saliva, semen, vaginal fluid etc. The blood, semen and vaginal fluids vaginal fluid etc. The blood, semen and vaginal fluids are highly infective.

The breast-milk is also found to transmit the disease. The virus in the blood multiplies slowly and destroys the defence system of the body by killing some types of white blood cells. The infected person looks normal for 2 to 10 years after receiving the infection. This is called ‘HIV Infection stage.’ During this stage he looks quite normal, but is capable of infecting others.

As the defence mechanism of his body gradually continues to collapse, the germs of the other diseases invade his body, and he starts showing symptoms and signs.

Symtoms and Signs:

Infected person gets fever, headache, excessive perspiration, loss of weight, enlargement of lymph nodes, pain in abdomen, diarrhoea, cough, weakness, ulcers in mouth, rash on the body, loss of hair, anaemia etc. He may suffer from pneumonia, tuberculosis, Herpes, Kaposi Sarcoma or thrush. This stage is called “AIDS.” It is called “Syndrome” because it is a group of symptoms of the diseases that attack him (i.e., not having fixed symptoms as in the other diseases).

Transmission of Infection:

  1. Sexual intercourse: (homosexual or heterosexual): In the homosexuals the germs from the semen of the active partner pass through the small cracks in the anus and through the mucus membrane of the passive partner. In the heteroxexuals, the infection passes from the semen of the male through the mucus membrane of vagina of the female.

    If the female is infected, the infection from her cervix and vaginal secretions passes to the male through the mucus membrane of the glans of his penis. Oral sex (stimulating genitals of partner by mouth) may lead to infection with HIV.

  2. Blood transfusion: In major surgery like that of cancer or heart, the blood transfusion to the patient is needed. Thalassemia patients need frequent transfusion of the blood. If the blood is collected from a person suffering from HIV/AIDS and is given to the patient through the transfusion, the recipient gets the infection.

  3. Infected needle: The drug abusers circulate the same unsterilized needle in their group for injecting a drug. If any one of them suffers from HIV infection, others get it through the needle.

  4. Mother to Child: During pregnancy and delivery the virus from infected mother passes to the child. Diagnosis ELISA (Enzyme Linked Immunosorbant Assay) is a blood test done to diagnose HIV/AIDS infection. If positive, then Western Blot test is done to confirm the diagnosis. When this too is doubtful, PCR (Polymerase Chain Reaction) test is done.

There is no definite treatment for HIV/AIDS because it is of virus origin. Drugs like AZT (Azidothiamidine) Nevirapine, Ritonavin etc if given in combination, can prolong the life of AIDS patient. The cost of the drug is prohibitive. The patient has to choose between “heaven” and “bancruptcy.” Slowly the patient’s health deteriorates and the death only ends the sufferings.

Prevention of HIV/AIDS

Since there is no treatment for HIV infection or AIDS, the preventive measures have a great value:

  1. Avoid sex outside the wedlock. Have sex with only one partner. Avoid having sex with an unknown person. Avoid sex with the sex worker. Avoid homosexual contacts. Use condom when the circumstances are inevitable.

  2. If blood transfusion is needed, the blood of a close relative should be collected. The blood should be tested for HIV infection. The blood products like immunoglobulins, sera (plural of serum) should be checked and confirmed to be free from HIV infection. (This is mentioned on the carton.)

  3. Unsterile needle should not be used. Insist on use of a disposable needle for injection when you attend a doctor’s clinic. Use a disposable needle for pricking the ears or the nose of a child. Avoid tattooing of skin.

  4. If a woman is suffering from HIV/AIDS a contraceptive should be used to avoid pregnancy.

  5. Do not use tooth brush or shaving razors of thers. Insist on use of a new shaving blade when you visit a barber.

  6. Do not handle blood unless you use gloves.

The following do not spread infection of HIV/AIDS

  1. Sneezing or coughing by AIDS patient.

  2. Using utensils or clothes of the AIDS patient.

  3. Touching, hugging, kissing, working together, shaking hands with the AIDS patient.

  4. Through swimming pools, toilet seat, tub, through sharing food or water.

  5. Through mosquito bites.

  6. Donating the blood. HIV/AIDS has become a tremendous threat to the entire humanity in this century.

HIV/AIDS awareness is the greatest need of the time. Anybody can get HIV/AIDS. Many are unaware of the fact that HIV infection, can be transmitted by other means than intercourse. Those who do not have sexual relation with persons other than the spouse feel unconcerned about HIV/AIDS. This is not correct.

Unknowingly one can get HIV infection through unsterile needles, unsterile instruments, blood products, blood, tattooing or through ear or nose pricking. Therefore, we all are concerned in restricting the spread of HIV infection and have got to take proper precautions to prevent the infection. It is also our responsibility to create awareness amongst others about HIV/AIDS.

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