What happens when you get HIV (Human Immunodeficiency Virus)?

An estimate from WHO (World Health Organization) global statistics shows that 37.3 million people (about twice the population of New York) will be living with HIV at the end of 2020. Did you know that HIV not only affects your immune system only but also has other severe complications as well? And without treatment, they get worse and, in some cases, can lead to death too. Learn about the effects of HIV in this article so you can prevent them.  

Everybody knows about HIV; it is a sexually transmitted viral infection that attacks and destroys your immune system so that any infection can easily affect your health. Once it progresses further, it can lead to AIDS (acquired immunodeficiency syndrome), which is dangerous because it can decrease your life expectancy by up to 3 years if you don’t take proper treatment. Although there is no cure for HIV, with knowledge and treatment, you can reduce its symptoms and live a longer, healthier life.  

Effects of HIV on the Body  

  1. Immune System: First, HIV attacks your immune system. In the initial stages, it fights your immune system, and later after defeating your defense cells, it starts destroying your immune system. The disturbing thing is that HIV infection might go unnoticed in the initial stages because its symptoms mimic common flu-like fever, chills, headaches, sore throat, muscle aches, etc. Your body has CD4 cells that fight infections and viruses. As HIV infection progresses, it destroys your CD4 cell-the last active defense of the immune system. When HIV progresses to become AIDS, it destroys the immune system- even flu/cold can be deadly.  
    • Opportunistic Infections: A severely damaged immune system opens the way for any viruses, bacteria, or fungi to infect the person, and these infections are called opportunistic infections. These infections can be mild for a normal person, but life-threatening for someone with compromised immunity. Infections such as candida, salmonella, herpes, pneumonia, tuberculosis, certain cancers (such as Kaposi sarcoma), cytomegalovirus, cryptococcal meningitis, toxoplasmosis, etc. are common opportunistic infections in America.  
  2. Co-infections: Sometimes, people with HIV get infected with not one but two or more infections at the same time. It is common when infections are of the same kind as many HIV people get infected with hepatitis B and C together because this virus has the same transmission route (through sexual contact or sharing the same equipment as injections). Tuberculosis is also a coinfection that infects your respiratory system, and chances are much higher in HIV-infected people. That’s why CDC (Centers for Disease Control & Prevention) recommends that people who live with HIV should undergo testing for hepatitis B and C and Tuberculosis, even when they don’t have any symptoms. 
  3. Cardiovascular System: HIV-infected people might develop cardiovascular diseases like heart disease, stroke, or heart failure. Although researchers don’t know the exact cause behind this, they now believe that HIV, even when controlled with drugs, may stimulate your immune system more than usual, causing inflammation (swelling and irritation of your body’s tissues). Inflammation causes plaque buildup inside your blood vessels, stopping the blood flow to the heart which is the leading cause of heart disease.  
  4. Nervous System: HIV doesn’t directly affect the nervous system, but it infects the cells supporting the nerves in the brain and throughout the body. That’s why advanced HIV can cause severe damage to nerves, which can lead to pain and numbness in the hands and feet. Further, it can damage your peripheral nerves by creating small holes in the sheaths leading to weakness and difficulty in walking. You might notice symptoms like headaches, confusion, cognitive disorders, and depression as early symptoms of neurological problems with HIV infections. So, don’t ignore them visiting the doctor for treatment. 
  5. Skin: Although HIV doesn’t directly affect the skin- after weakening your immune system, the skin is vulnerable to any kind of infection like herpes, eczema, scabies, and even skin cancer. Symptoms like rashes, sores, blisters, lumps, and bumps start to appear when you get these infections. If you notice these symptoms, start treatment promptly to avoid further complications. HIV is an incurable disease that can leave a person prone to further infections. If you have HIV, it is best for you to take proper treatment to avoid further complications of HIV.  

Want to know more about HIV Prevention and Treatment? 

At Doral Health and Wellness, we have doctors that can help you manage your condition. For more information, you can visit us at 1797 Pitkin Avenue, Brooklyn, New York, 11212, or call us at 1-347-384-5690. You can also visit our website at https://doralhw.org or contact us at info@doralhw.org if you have any queries.