Human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) is a lentivirus that attacks the immune system, impairing its ability to fight diseases. If left untreated, most HIV-infected individuals will develop acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS), which targets the immune system, causing it to fail and eventually become vulnerable to life-threatening opportunistic infections.
As of 2009, the World Health Organization reports an estimated 33.3 million people worldwide are living with HIV/AIDS. In the U.S. alone, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimate that more than one million people are living with HIV, and over 56,000 Americans are infected with HIV each year. However, up to 25 percent of Americans may be unaware that they have HIV.
People with the highest risk of contracting HIV/AIDS are:
- Those who have unprotected sex and/or multiple sexual partners (regardless of gender or sexual orientation)
- Intravenous drug users who share needles
- Newborn babies with HIV-positive mothers
HIV is most commonly transmitted by sexual contact with an infected partner. However, the virus can also be passed through the sharing of infected needles, blood transfusions and pregnancy (from mother to child).
HIV can be diagnosed through specimen testing with assays, Western blots, or nucleic acid testing. When HIV is diagnosed, a person is referred to as “HIV-positive.” This means that an individual has contracted either type 1 (HIV-1) or type 2 (HIV-2) virus, which stays in the body for the remainder of a person’s life. People who have contracted HIV-1 or HIV-2 can potentially live with the virus for many years before it progresses to the development of full blown AIDS.
The progression of HIV to AIDS happens through the destruction of CD4 cells, also known as T-Helper or TCells. These are a specific type of white blood cell in the body that play a key role in helping the immune system fight illnesses. HIV targets, infects and kills CD4 cells. If HIV destroys enough CD4 cells so that a person’s CD4 count is below 200 cells/mm3, then a person is considered to have AIDS. However, some people can have a CD4 count over 200 cells/mm3 and still have AIDS, because they also have opportunistic infections present (such as: pneumocystis jiroveci pneumonia, cytomegalovirus, tuberculosis, toxoplasmosis, and cryptosporidiosis).
A range of signs and symptoms can be found in HIV-positive individuals. During the first stages of contracting HIV, patients may experience:
- Brown or red blotches under the skin
- Dry cough
- Extreme fatigue
- Frequent fever
- Persistent skin rashes
- Persistent yeast infections
- Rapid weight loss
- Swollen lymph nodes
Although there is no vaccine currently available, there are many types of prevention practices that are recommended. In order to prevent infection of HIV/AIDS, the practice of safe sex with condoms is most commonly and highly encouraged. Knowing a partner’s sexual history, avoiding drug abuse, avoiding the sharing of needles and household razors, and wearing latex gloves when dealing with infected blood can all help prevent the infection of HIV/AIDS.
Unfortunately, there is no known cure for HIV or AIDS, but there are a number of treatments known as anti- HIV. Helping control the virus, these drugs can help prevent the progression of AIDS. They can also help restore the functions of the immune system and improve the quality of life for patients with HIV. These treatments include:
- Non-nucleoside reverse transcriptase inhibitors (NNRTIs)
- Nucleoside reverse transcriptase inhibitors (NRTIs)
- Protease inhibitors (PIs)
- Entry or Fusion Inhibitors
- Integrase inhibitors
These treatments should begin during the early stages of HIV, if an individual presents with severe symptoms or if someone is pregnant. The complications of treatment may vary in severity, from nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, skin rashes to weakened bones or bone death. However, the practice of a healthy diet, the avoidance of high-risk behavior and the proper use of medications can help prevent complications.
There are a number of resources available for people and families affected by HIV/AIDS. A range of information, support groups, and other helpful links can be found throughout the following sites:
Stat RX Pharmacy is committed to providing quality, reliable, consistent care to people with HIV/AIDS. We have a very wide range of prescription therapies available to help treat HIV/AIDS, including Combivir, Retrovir and Viread (see our Drug Database for the full list). We provide comprehensive follow-up service so that patients receive a smooth continuum of efficient, specialty care. Our expert professionals are trained in HIV/AIDS therapies and can help providers and patients find treatment regimens that work for them. Contact us today to learn more about our comprehensive HIV/AIDS therapies.