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Published On: Tue, Dec 5th, 2017

HIV/AIDS, a major health issue

Some people may think that HIV is far away from their lives. But in fact, HIV has become a major global public health issue. The WHO reported that 36.7 million people were living with HIV in 2016. Unfortunately, public understanding of HIV is still not enough. On the one hand, some people don’t recognize the seriousness of the issue. On the other hand, some HIV-infected people are living in fear and shame because of societal prejudice. It’s imperative to increase the public understanding of HIV in order to improve human lives and enhance human welfare.

Human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), co-cultivated with human lymphocytes.
Image/CDC

Origins of HIV

Since HIV was identified, scientists have done a lot of works to determine its origins. Although how the dangerous virus appeared in humans has not been completely understood, a generally-accepted view is that HIV originated in other primates. In 1999, scientists found a strain of SIV in a chimpanzee that was very similar to HIV in humans. It’s believed that SIV was transferred to humans when hunters got exposed to the blood of infected chimps. SIV adapted to human bodies and evolved into HIV.

Symptoms of HIV/AIDS

HIV, or human immunodeficiency virus, is so named because it infects important cells in the human immune system and leads to a lack of immune cells and specifically CD4+ T cells that normally help the body fight off pathogens and diseases. HIV infection can trigger AIDS (acquired immunodeficiency syndrome). But we should know that HIV and AIDS are not the same things. Not all people infected HIV develop AIDS. AIDS is the most severe phase of HIV infection.

HIV infection often does not cause symptoms or only manifests flu-like symptoms, such as chills, fatigue, fever, muscle aches, sore throat, etc. This is why many people living with HIV are not aware of their infection. Without treatment, asymptomatic HIV infection may eventually progress to AIDS. People with AIDS have badly damaged immune systems, are prone to opportunistic infections and viral-induced cancers, and frequently experience systemic symptoms like prolonged fevers and swollen lymph nodes.

Transmission of HIV

A person can get HIV through specific activities, including

  1. coming into contact with certain body fluids (blood, semen, rectal fluids, vaginal fluids, and breast milk) from an infected person
  2. having sex with an infected person
  3. using sharp objects like needles that have been used by an infected person
  4. from an infected mother to her child during pregnancy, birth, or breastfeeding

There are many misconceptions about HIV/AIDS. For example,

  1. Some people believe that simply being around HIV-infected people will make healthy people get HIV infection. This is not the case. HIV is not transmitted by air/water, saliva, sweat, tears, closed mouth kissing, insects, pets, or sharing food, drinks, or toilets, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
  2. Some people think that pregnant women infected with HIV will certainly give birth to infected babies, but this is also not true. Proper treatment can help pregnant women control their HIV infection to ensure that their babies are not infected. Inhibiting mother-to-child transmission is an important strategy in HIV prevention.
  3. Some people think that HIV-infected patients receiving treatment do not spread the virus to healthy people, but this is also not true. HIV treatments can indeed reduce the amount of virus in the blood to an almost undetectable level. However, studies have shown that the virus may still hide in some parts of the body.

Diagnosis of HIV

Since HIV infection can go undetected, a person who has gotten infected with the virus may not know about it. If you think that you may have been exposed to HIV, you’d better seek medical care right away. Early testing is crucial. Doctors will develop a treatment plan to help HIV-positive people fight HIV. Currently, there are different types of tests for diagnosing HIV and AIDS. The commonly used tests include ELISA Test, Home Test, Saliva Test, Viral Load Test, and Western Blot. Among these methods, the ELISA test is the first test that your healthcare provider will order to screen for HIV. ELISA, or enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay, detects antibodies to HIV or the genetic material of HIV in samples like blood and saliva.

Public domain photo/ ChristianHeldt via Wikimedia commons

Treatment of HIV

Antiretroviral therapy (ART) — the combination of several antiretroviral drugs — is an important treatment of HIV/AIDS. The use of ART has greatly improved the treatment and prevention of HIV infection. Although ART drugs do not kill or cure HIV, they allow a patient to live a longer, healthier life. ART drugs prevent HIV from multiplying and therefore protect the immune system. But ART drugs have to be taken every day for a lifetime, which may cause unwanted side effects.

In addition, four therapeutic strategies are being explored, including:

Kick and Kill. This method aims to reactivate dormant HIV viruses and kill them.

Gene therapy. This method is to modify the DNA in cells to prevent HIV from infecting them.

Stem cell transplantation. This method involves the transplantation of HIV-resistant stem cells.

Immune adjustment. This method increases the body’s ability to control HIV replication by using therapeutic HIV vaccines and antibody-based treatment strategies, without the need for ART drugs.

Prevention of HIV

A lot of efforts have been made to develop preventive strategies for HIV/AIDS. Previous studies have deepened our understanding how the virus infects host cells and causes disease and have improved HIV management. For example, a new study appearing in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) has shown that a protein called BICD2 is critical for trafficking of HIV in target cells during infection. Studies like this bring hope for HIV cure and prevention in the future. Unfortunately, no HIV vaccines exist currently, although different HIV vaccine candidates are being in development.

In conclusion, there is still a long way to go in the fight against HIV and AIDS. To prevent HIV from spreading, it is necessary for us to get a comprehensive understanding of all aspects of HIV. Scientists are struggling to identify the precise mechanisms by which HIV infects humans.

Author bio

Caroline Liu is an editor in Cusabio, a biotech company specialized in the research and production of proteins, antibodies, ELISA kits, and many related products and services.

About the Author

- The generic Dispatch designation, used primarily for press releases or syndicated content, but may be used for guest author requesting a generic nomenclature

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