Aids stands for Acquired immunodeficiency syndrome. It applies to the advanced stages of infection with the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV). If it is untreated, the infection, which triggers immunodeficiency, can cause severe illness through to death. Nowadays, there are effective medications available to treat it. Although the HIV infection cannot be cured, the treatment prevents the outbreak of Aids and enables sufferers to have a life with very few major limitations.
The HIV virus is transmitted through direct contact with blood and through sexual intercourse. The virus originally comes from African apes (chimpanzees). It was probably transmitted to humans as a result of consuming chimpanzee flesh. There was a worldwide outbreak of the virus in the 1980s. The virus attacks the immune cells of the immune system, which results in increasing immunodeficiency. There were initially no effective medications to treat it, so the majority of infected people in the 1980s eventually developed full-blown Aids and died.
If untreated, infection with the HIV virus through to the outbreak of Aids typically follows three stages.
In the first phase after infection, the patient usually presents with symptoms that are similar to those of a cold or a flu: fever, fatigue, headaches and occasional skin rashes. At this time, the virus replicates on a massive scale in the body, so the danger of infecting others is very high during this phase.
In the second phase, which can vary in length depending on the patient, the immune system becomes progressively weaker. Infectious diseases such as fungal infections or bacterial skin infections occur more frequently. Those affected suffer from severe night sweats and constant swelling of the lymph nodes.
After months, or sometimes only after years, the disease enters the third phase, where the actual clinical picture of Aids appears. The immune system is now so weak that lung infections, cancers and fungal infections occur on the internal organs. Thanks to antiviral medications, this stage is only rarely seen nowadays.
It is crucial to detect an HIV infection early to prevent Aids from developing. Therefore, medical advice should be sought immediately if there is suspected infection or if symptoms occur. The HIV infection is diagnosed with a blood test.
If treatment is started early, the development of the immunodeficiency can be prevented. Those affected can lead a normal life with a similar life expectancy to that of people who do not have the disease. However, they must take anti-viral medication for the rest of their life. HIV-positive people can principally also no longer pass on the virus if they take their HIV medication regularly and the virus is no longer detectable in their blood. The success of the treatment must be suitably monitored with regular blood tests.