There is a difference between HIV and AIDS. Human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) is the virus that causes Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS). It is a sexually transmitted disease (STD)
The virus weakens a person’s ability to fight infections. The disease alters the immune system, making people much more vulnerable to infections and diseases. This susceptibility worsens if the syndrome progresses.
HIV is found throughout all the tissues of the body but is transmitted through the body fluids of an infected person (semen, vaginal fluids, blood, and breast milk).
It can take years before HIV weakens your immune system to the point that you have AIDS.
When you are first infected with HIV, you may experience a short ‘flu-like’ illness as your immune system attempts to fight the virus about 2-4 weeks after being infected. The HIV rash is a symptom of this condition.
The rash will mostly affect the upper part of the body and will probably be found on the shoulder, chest area face, torso and palms of the hands.
Typically the rash will be flat or barely raised with small reddish dots/ spots (resembling eczema) in people with light skin, and dark purple/ black in people with dark skin.
The rash is not usually itchy and it tends to disappear within 3 weeks.
What is Seroconversion?
This is the period of time during which HIV antibodies develop and become detectable. It generally takes place within a few weeks of initial infection. It is often, but not always, accompanied by flu-like symptoms including fever, rash, muscle aches and swollen lymph nodes.
Generally, it is recommended that you wait three months after possible exposure before being tested for HIV. Although HIV antibody tests are very sensitive, there is a ‘window period’ of 3 to 12 weeks, which is the period between infection with HIV and the appearance of detectable antibodies to the virus.
The window period refers to the time after infection and before seroconversion, during which markers of infection (HIV-specific antigen and antibodies) are still absent or too scarce to be detectable. Standard screening tests cannot reliably detect HIV infection until after the window period has passed.
Stages of HIV
Without treatment, HIV advances in stages, overwhelming your immune system and getting worse over time. The three stages of HIV infection are:
1. Acute HIV Infection
Acute HIV infection is the earliest stage of HIV infection, and it generally develops within 2 to 4 weeks after a person is infected with HIV.
During this time, some people have flu-like symptoms, such as fever, headache, and rash. In the acute stage of infection, HIV multiplies rapidly and spreads throughout the body. The virus attacks and destroys the infection-fighting CD4 cells of the immune system.
HIV can be transmitted during any stage of infection, but the risk is greatest during acute HIV infection.
2. Chronic HIV Infection
The second stage of HIV infection is chronic HIV infection (also called asymptomatic HIV infection or clinical latency).
During this stage of the disease, HIV continues to multiply in the body but at very low levels. People with chronic HIV infection may not have any HIV-related symptoms, but they can still spread HIV to others.
Without treatment with HIV medicines, chronic HIV infection usually advances to AIDS in 10 years or longer, though it may take less time for some people.
AIDS is the final stage of HIV infection. Because HIV has severely damaged the immune system, the body can’t fight off opportunistic infections.
Opportunistic infections are infections and infection-related cancers that occur more frequently or are more severe in people with weakened immune systems than in people with healthy immune systems.
People with HIV are diagnosed with AIDS when they have a CD4 count of less than 200 cells/mm3, they have one or more opportunistic infections, or both.
The CD4 count is like a snapshot of how well your immune system is functioning. CD4 cells (also known as CD4+ T cells) are white blood cells that fight infection. These are the cells that the HIV virus kills. As HIV infection progresses, the number of these cells declines.
A higher number indicates a stronger immune system. The CD4 cell count of a person who does not have HIV can be anything between 500 and 1500. People living with HIV who have a CD4 count over 500 are usually in pretty good health.
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