The human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) is clearly one of the most significant diseases of our time, affecting not only the way we view illness, but also the way in which we discriminate sexually, economically, and even religiously.
In terms of an illness, HIV is transmitted primarily through unprotected sexual intercourse (including anal and oral sex), contaminated blood transfusions, contaminated hypodermic needles, and from mother to child during pregnancy, delivery or breast feeding. The virus does not spread through casual contact such as preparing food, sharing towels or bedding, or using public swimming pools, telephones or toilet seats. The virus is also unlikely to be spread via saliva or tears, unless there is also blood present.
Acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS) is caused by HIV, and occurs when the virus has destroyed so much of your body's immune system that your immune system cells (T helper cells) have dropped to critically low levels, or you have acquired a life-threatening infection or cancer.
There are three main stages of HIV infection: acute infection, clinical latency, and AIDS. During the acute infection stage, many people do not exhibit any symptoms, while others report flu-like symptoms that usually disappear after a few weeks. Other non-specific symptoms may also appear, but are rarely recognized as HIV infection because of their seemingly harmless nature.
Following this stage is the clinical latency period, which lasts an average of eight years. Without any treatment, this is the stage in which the virus begins to multiply, slowly destroying your immune system and eventually leaving you open to opportunistic infections.
During the AIDS stage, infections that your body would otherwise be able to fight off become dangerous to your health, including pneumonia, brain infection, mycobacterium avian complex (MAC), fungal infections and cancers such as lymphoma or Kaposi's sarcoma. Symptoms of a person with AIDS may involve generalized weakness, prolonged fever, shortness of breath, swollen lymph nodes, night sweats, chills, weight loss and diarrhea.
While there is no accepted cure for HIV, If you have been diagnosed with HIV your doctor will likely recommend a combination of highly active antiretroviral (HAART) drugs. Pregnant women diagnosed should begin HAART treatment immediately upon diagnosis, to prevent transmission to the baby.
Ultimately, if you are infected with HIV you should be continually under the care of a physician who is an expert in the disease. Natural medicine should only come into play under your doctor's guidance, and may include some Traditional Chinese Medicine, nutritional counselling, and massage therapy.
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