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About HIV

The Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) is a virus that destroys the body’s immune system which fights against infection and diseases to protect your health. When the immune system has stopped working and the person develops a life-threatening condition, the infection develops to a latter stage and we call this Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS).

The term AIDS was first used by doctors when the exact nature of HIV was not fully understood. However, the term is no longer widely used because it is too general to describe the many different conditions that can affect somebody with HIV. Specialists now prefer to use the terms advanced or late-stage HIV infection.

If the immune system is damaged by HIV, it increases the risk of developing a serious infection or disease, such as cancer.

The virus infects particular cells, called CD4 cells, that are found in the blood. CD4 cells are responsible for fighting infection. After they become infected, the CD4 cells are destroyed by HIV. Although the body will attempt to produce more CD4 cells, their numbers will eventually decline and the immune system will stop working.

This is a special type of virus known as a retrovirus. The retrovirus reproduces inside the cell and releases copies of itself into the blood. It can be challenging to treat as the virus can rapidly mutate (alter) into new strains of virus.

According to estimates by WHO and UNAIDS, 33.4 million people were living with HIV at the end of 2008. That same year, some 2.7 million people became newly infected, and 2.0 million died of AIDS, including 280 000 children.

At the end of 2008, an estimated 83,000 adults aged over 15 were living with the virus in the UK. Of these, 22,400 (27 percent) did not know they were infected. Most of these cases are among homosexual men. Many people are diagnosed only when they become seriously ill.

The number of people living with this virus is rising each year. This is because more cases are being diagnosed and people are living longer due to more effective medication.

It can take 10-15 years for an HIV-infected person to develop AIDS; antiretroviral drugs can slow down the process even further. Symptoms include fever, weight loss and swelling of lymph nodes.

The length of time it takes for the virus to develop into AIDS can vary widely between individuals. Left untreated, the majority of people infected with HIV will develop signs of HIV-related illness within 5-10 years. However, the time between the infection and an AIDS diagnosis can be 10-15 years, sometimes longer. Antiretroviral therapy (ART) can slow the disease progression by decreasing an infected person?s viral load.

Tuberculosis (TB) is a leading cause of HIV-related deaths worldwide. In some countries with higher HIV prevalence, up to 80 percent of people with TB test positive. Globally approximately 30 percent of HIV-infected persons are estimated to have latent TB infection. In 2008, there were an estimated 1.4 million new cases of TB among persons with HIV infection and TB accounted for 23 percent of AIDS-related deaths.

HIV infection is no longer the ‘death sentence’ like it was thought of in the past. Treatments have been developed which, if taken early and regularly, can enable the patient to live a normal, active life.

Western Medical View

In our blood, there is a kind of cells called CD4 which are responsible for fighting infection. HIV only infects and destroys CD4 cells. The virus can duplicate itself very quickly, which beats the body’s production speed of CD4. Eventually, the numbers of CD4 cells decline and the immune system will stop working. As this happens, the patients will have a high risk of getting other serious infections or diseases.

HIV can be spread through the exchange of bodily fluids, such as semen/vaginal fluids (mostly through sexual intercourse) or blood (through blood transfusions etc.). It can also be passed from a mother to her unborn baby. However, this can now be prevented from happening. HIV can be passed on if infected needles are used in injections, piercings or tattoos. The condition can also be spread from a mother to her unborn child.

Daily activities like sharing cutlery, sitting on toilet seats or by shaking hands do not have the danger of infection as the levels of HIV found in the body fluids such as saliva, sweat, urine or on the skin are not high enough to cause an infection.

Blood tests are performed to diagnose the infection. These procedures tend to be relatively easy and quick to do.

There is currently no official cure or vaccine for HIV. However, special medicines that have been proved to succeed in slowing the progression of the virus and prolonging life are used with treatment, although antiretroviral drugs are used in the treatment and prevention of the infection. They fight HIV by stopping or interfering with the reproduction of the virus in the body.

With good and continued adherence to antiretroviral treatment, the progression of the virus in the body can be slowed to a near halt. Increasingly, people living with HIV are kept well and productive for extended periods of time.

In addition to antiretroviral treatment, people with the infection often need counselling and psychosocial support. Access to good nutrition, safe water and basic hygiene can also help an HIV-infected person maintain a high quality of life.

Chinese Medical View

In Chinese Medicine, pathogen such as HIV is regarded as warm. It starts by depleting the Essence (i.e. the body’s essential energy derived from parents which develops as the body matures) in the Kidney, Heart, Lung, Liver and Spleen one by one, causing deficiency in these organs.

HIV is just like a fire which burns out the essence that these organs store and use to function normally. As these organs lose the essence, they cannot function well. Therefore, symptoms related to the deficiency of these organs occur and develop.

According to Chinese Medicine theory Chinese herbs and acupuncture can be prescribed to help strengthen the immune system and treat any other related conditions. These treatments should be combined with Western treatment to tackle the virus, to improve the quality of the patient’s life and prolong it.

Lifestyle Advice

Use male or female condoms correctly each time you have sex.

  • Practice only non-penetrative sex
  • Remain faithful in a relationship with an uninfected equally faithful partner with no other risk behaviour
  • Abstain from sex
  • If you have ever had drugs injected, you should undergo a check to determine if you have a HIV infection

Knowing your HIV status can have two important benefits:

If you learn that you are HIV positive, you can take the necessary steps before symptoms appear to access treatment, care and support, thereby potentially prolonging your life for many years.

If you know that you are infected, you can take precautions to prevent the spread of the virus to others.

For personalised advice on diet and lifestyle, please ask the doctor during your consultation.

Please be reminded that we offer free online health advice.