Human immunodeficiency virus or HIV remains to be a public health problem despite the widespread dissemination of information about the disease as well as noticeable progress in finding symptomatic management of HIV and AIDS infections. The stigma associated with the disease does not help in educating the public with most of the people trying to veer away from the topic considering HIV as a condition suffered by the sinful and the immoral.
Recognizing the early symptoms of HIV is important not only in checking one’s self or health status if he or she has contracted the disease but also for helping other people to recognize these symptoms. Hence, prompt treatment and prevention of further spread of the disease may be done.
In order to increase understanding of the symptoms of HIV, one must also fully comprehend the pathophysiologic process behind the infection. The virus that causes the disease is transmitted through blood and body secretions such as transfusion of infected blood, sharing of needles like in intravenous drug use or tattoo; and sexual intercourse.
Once present inside the host body, the virus being an obligate parasite chooses to live in the cells. The HIV virus carries a ribonucleic acid, a genetic material that would later incorporate itself in the genetic material of different cells which later affects the number of CD4 T cells in the body. These cells play a role in immunity through a physiological “identification system” triggering the body in case they notice a familiar disease causing agent.
HIV does not create a full blown infection as soon as it enters the body of the person. The period between the inoculation and exposure of the person to the virus until the development of antibodies is called the primary infection phase, and coincides with the infamous window period where the person has negative HIV test results. This phase usually does not present any symptom or the early HIV symptoms are not really specific such as headache, joint pain, nasal stuffiness or frequent sneezing – which result from the intense replication of the virus and widespread dissemination of the virus throughout the body.
In a matter of weeks, the individual may display non specific symptoms such as headache, fever, lymphedema or enlargement of lymph nodes, rash and aching of muscles which are similar to having mononucleosis. This is the response of the body with regards to the destruction of the immune system cells and to the attempt of the body to kill the infected and virus producing cells which lead to release of antibodies and other inflammatory mediators. These symptoms would soon resolve as the body is able to gain control of the virus which occurs in a matter of one to three weeks.
Early symptoms of HIV may be neglected or not taken seriously by other people because these manifestations do not point out to a serious condition, and they are also easily managed in a few days. However, immediate medical consultation and early treatment are highly recommended since after this phase, the infections take a longer time and the coping mechanisms of the body slowly fatigues with the increasing number of viruses in the body.
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