Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) is a formidable global health concern, ranking among the deadliest infectious diseases worldwide. Even with the availability of effective antiretroviral treatments, HIV/AIDS remains the second leading infectious cause of death globally, exerting a significant impact on public health.
While HIV/AIDS constituted approximately 1.5% of all global deaths and less than 0.1% in Europe in 2019, it holds the grim distinction of being the leading cause of death in Sub-Saharan Africa. According to data from the World Health Organization (WHO), in 2019, HIV/AIDS was responsible for substantial proportions of fatalities in countries such as South Africa (28%), Botswana (27%), Mozambique (25%), Namibia (20%), Zambia (18%), Kenya (17%), and Congo (12%).
Shockingly, HIV/AIDS-related deaths surpass those caused by heart disease by over 50% and are more than double the fatalities attributed to cancer in Sub-Saharan Africa. Although the 1990s witnessed a surge in HIV/AIDS cases and mortality, advances in antiretroviral therapy (ART) and diagnostic technologies have ushered in significant progress against this infection. Continue reading to explore the nuances of Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV), including its stages, transmission methods, symptoms, and detection through the HIV Rapid Test Kit.
Exploring Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV)
Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) belongs to the Lentivirus genus within the Retroviridae family. Like other Lentiviruses, HIV is an enveloped virus containing two copies of positive-sense single-stranded RNA. There are two major subtypes of HIV: HIV-1 and HIV-2. HIV-1 is the predominant and highly pathogenic strain, responsible for over 2 million infections annually. In contrast, HIV-2 is less prevalent and primarily found in Africa.
Once HIV enters the human body, it launches an assault on the immune system, targeting critical cells such as T helper cells, macrophages, and dendritic cells. CD4+ cells, a type of T helper cell crucial for the adaptive immune system, are the primary victims of HIV. As these cells are depleted, the host's cell-mediated immunity weakens, rendering the body increasingly susceptible to opportunistic infections—a hallmark of AIDS (Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome).
Understanding Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome (AIDS)
When left untreated, HIV infections progress through stages, including acute or primary HIV infection, chronic or secondary HIV infection, and eventually, AIDS. The acute phase, occurring after the incubation period, presents with non-specific flu-like symptoms lasting approximately four weeks. Subsequently, as the immune system reduces viral particles in the bloodstream, the infection advances to the secondary or chronic stage, which can persist for up to a decade. During this stage, individuals may experience persistently swollen lymph nodes due to the accumulation of viral particles.
AIDS is the most severe and final stage of HIV infection. It results from the progressive failure of the immune system, rendering the body vulnerable to life-threatening opportunistic infections and cancers. AIDS diagnosis occurs when individuals develop opportunistic bacterial, viral, fungal, and parasitic infections, along with specific cancers like Kaposi’s sarcoma and cervical cancer, or when their CD4+ cell counts drop below 200 cells per milliliter of blood. Without antiretroviral treatment, the average survival time post-HIV infection is estimated at 9 to 11 years.
Modes of Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) Transmission
HIV transmission occurs exclusively through specific bodily fluids, including blood, semen, pre-seminal fluid, rectal fluids, vaginal fluids, and breast milk. Infection requires these fluids to come into contact with mucous membranes, damaged tissue, or direct injection into the bloodstream. Common transmission routes include anal and vaginal intercourse, as well as the sharing of needles, syringes, or other drug injection equipment. Additionally, mother-to-child transmission can happen during pregnancy, childbirth, or breastfeeding. Transmission through oral sex, blood transfusions, and tissue/organ transplants is rare. Notably, HIV does not survive outside the human body, making airborne transmission impossible. Activities like touching, hugging, shaking hands, sharing toilets, dishes, and closed-mouth kissing, as well as saliva, tears, sweat, and insect bites, do not pose transmission risks.
Recognizing HIV Symptoms
Many individuals do not exhibit symptoms in the initial months following HIV infection. Some may experience flu-like symptoms, including fever, headache, rash, and sore throat. As the infection progresses, symptoms can intensify, featuring swollen lymph nodes, weight loss, fever, diarrhea, and cough. Left untreated, HIV advances to AIDS, where severe viral, bacterial, fungal, and parasitic infections like tuberculosis and cryptococcal meningitis, as well as specific cancers such as lymphomas, cervical cancer, and Kaposi’s sarcoma, become prevalent.