Symptoms and consequences of HIV and AIDS

The HIV virus gets inside the body and then attacks certain cells, the so-called CD4+ T cells. It then invades these cells and destroys them. This has major consequences. The CD4+ T cells ensure that a certain type of white blood cell (lymphocytes) make antibodies against intruders like viruses, bacteria and fungi.

The HIV virus deactivates the CD4+ T cells, the lymphocytes no longer function and the production of antibodies decreases. In other words: gaps start to appear in the line of defence against intruders. As a result, intruders can multiply inside the body and make a person ill.

But how does a person infected with HIV notice it?

Symptoms

A few weeks after contracting an HIV infection, a person can experience ‘flu-like symptoms’. This is also called ‘acute HIV’. This is the stage in which a person goes from being HIV-negative to HIV-positive. HIV-positive is also referred to as ‘seropositive’ HIV infection is often not suspected at this stage because the symptoms resemble normal flu or Pfeifer. These symptoms clear up themselves over the course of a few weeks.

An HIV infection can then develop in two ways

1. You are seropositive and you do not know it:
If you are seropositive, that does not mean that you immediately have symptoms. You will probably notice nothing at first. You can remain healthy for years and you can infect others with HIV if you have unprotected sex.

If you do not use antiretrovirals, the amount of virus can increase over the years and your resistance will be weakened. Eventually you can have symptoms. This can happen after two years, but it can also take more than ten years. Symptoms that accompany a far advanced HIV infection include fatigue, night sweats, weight loss for no apparent reason, fever, persistent diarrhoea and shortness of breath. You are diagnosed with AIDS when the HIV virus has weakened your resistance to such an extent that you get ill from an infection that would normally be eliminated by a healthy immune system. Fortunately, proper treatment options with antiretrovirals has meant that AIDS is no longer common in the Netherlands.

2. You have had an HIV test and know that you are seropositive:
If you have had an HIV test and know that you are HIV-positive, an HIV infection develops differently. You are immediately referred to an HIV treatment centre and through regular blood testing, the progress of the infection is monitored. If necessary, treatment starts so that you have none of the symptoms detailed above.

Interaction between HIV and STIs

There is an unpleasant interaction between STIs and HIV. If you have an STI, it is easier to contract HIV through unprotected sex. Conversely, someone who has both HIV and another STI can pass on HIV more easily. Syphilis in particular increases the chance of contracting HIV. Finally, STIs in people with HIV can be more serious since they have reduced resistance.

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