How Does HIV Cause?

HIV (Human Immunodeficiency Virus) is a virus that primarily affects the immune system, weakening it over time and making it harder for the body to fight off infections. HIV is transmitted through contact with certain body fluids, such as blood, semen, vaginal fluids, rectal fluids, and breast milk, from a person who has HIV. Here is an overview of how HIV causes illness:

  • Entry into the Body: HIV enters the body through activities that involve the exchange of these body fluids, such as unprotected sexual intercourse, sharing needles for drug use, or from mother to child during childbirth or breastfeeding.
  • Infection of Immune Cells: Once inside the body, HIV primarily targets a specific type of immune cell called CD4 T cells. These cells play a crucial role in coordinating the body’s immune response to infections. HIV attaches to CD4 receptors on the surface of these cells and enters them.
  • Replication: After entering CD4 T cells, HIV replicates (makes copies of itself) using the cell’s machinery. This process damages the CD4 T cells and ultimately leads to their destruction. As a result, the immune system becomes progressively weakened.
  • Progression of HIV Infection: HIV infection progresses through several stages:
    • Acute HIV Infection: The initial stage of infection, often accompanied by flu-like symptoms, occurs within a few weeks after exposure.
    • Chronic HIV Infection (Asymptomatic Stage): During this stage, people with HIV may not experience any symptoms, but the virus continues to replicate and damage the immune system.
    • Symptomatic HIV Infection: As the immune system weakens, individuals become more susceptible to infections and may experience various symptoms and illnesses.
    • AIDS (Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome): AIDS is the most advanced stage of HIV infection, characterized by severe immune system damage. At this stage, the body is vulnerable to opportunistic infections and certain cancers.
  • Opportunistic Infections: As the immune system becomes compromised, individuals with HIV are at increased risk of developing opportunistic infections. These are infections that would not typically cause illness in people with healthy immune systems but can be severe or life-threatening in those with weakened immune systems.
  • Transmission: HIV can be transmitted to others through unprotected sexual activity, sharing needles or syringes, from mother to child during childbirth or breastfeeding, and through certain blood products or organ transplants (though this is extremely rare in regions with strict screening protocols).

Treatment for HIV, typically involving antiretroviral therapy (ART), can effectively suppress the virus’s replication, slow down disease progression, and help preserve immune function. With proper medical care and adherence to treatment, many people with HIV can live long and healthy lives. However, there is currently no cure for HIV, so ongoing treatment and management are essential. Additionally, prevention strategies, such as safe sex practices and access to clean needles, are crucial for reducing the spread of the virus.