HIV is the human immunodeficiency virus and leads to AIDS, acquired immune deficiency syndrome.
The virus works by destroying the bodies T cells which are used to destroy pathogens. HIV attaches to a protein called CD4 on a T Helper cell. Upon doing so, it then enters the T cell were it converts viral RNA into DNA using an enzyme called reverse transcriptase. The new DNA is then taken into the nucleus of the T cell where it is then inserted and used to produce messenger RNA. The mRNA then utilises the cell’s protein synthesis mechanisms to produce the viral components which are taken to the cell surface and then expelled producing a replica of a virus.
In using T cells this way, T cells are then unable to stimulate phagocytes, produce memory cells, produce cytotoxic T cells and stimulate B cells to divide. In this way the body becomes unable to protect itself from disease. This eventually leads to the formation of AIDS. Most sufferers do not die from the HIV or AIDS but instead from secondary diseases such a pneumonia and even the common cold. As the immune system is so weak, it can not even protect itself from even the relatively less dangerous diseases.
HIV is found in body fluid and is transmitted this way. It can be transplanted from, mother to fetus, through sharing needles, blood transfusion and through unsafe sexual intercourse.
Eventually as symptoms worsen it can lead to:
- weight loss
- chronic diarrhoea
- night sweats
- skin problems
- recurrent infections
- serious life-threatening illnesses
Diagnosis in recent times usually involves a blood test which is double checked to confirm whether a person is HIV positive. Treatment can include:
- Emergency HIV pills
- Antiretroviral drugs
- Post-exposure prophylaxis (PEP)
The aim of the treatment is to reduce the level of HIV in the blood, allow the immune system to repair itself and prevent any HIV-related illnesses.