Human Immunodeficiency Virus [HIV] belongs to the family of retrovirus that causes Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome [AIDS] in humans which destroys the body’s ability to fight infections and certain cancers. The virus is present in the blood, saliva, breast milk and genital secretions of all the infected individuals irrespective of presence or absence of symptoms. HIV infection occurs when these secretions come in contact with tissues like vaginal mucosa, oral mucosa, anal mucosa, or if the secretions come in contact with blood through a break in the skin, blood transfusion, and injection needles. The most common routes of transmission include having sex with an infected partner, blood transfusion, contaminated needles and transmission of infection from infected mothers to their newborns.
Once the viruses enter the body, they multiply and produce billions of HIV viruses and circulate in the blood. These viruses attack and destroy vital cells of the immune system such as CD4 [helper T cells] cells, macrophages, and dendritic cells. The HIV infection leads to a decrease in CD4 cells when the CD4 cell count is below a critical level, the body loses cell-mediated immunity and progressively body becomes more susceptible to opportunistic infections. When the CD4 count reaches below a critical level, the infected person said to have AIDS. AIDS is the later stage of HIV infection and the infections occur in this stage are called opportunistic infections. Many people with HIV infection do not develop symptoms, within weeks of infection, some people experience influenza-like illness. Early symptoms of HIV infection include fever, aching muscles and joints, tiredness, headache, sore throat and enlarged lymph nodes in the neck. These symptoms disappear on their own within a few weeks, the person becomes free form symptoms and this asymptomatic phase often lasts for years. This phase of early symptoms is known as primary infection.
HIV symptoms in men include flu-like illness, significant weight loss, night sweats, fatigue, persistent diarrhea, mouth ulcers, and white spots in the mouth, constant headaches and constant swelling of lymph nodes. In the first week of infection, the person develops low-grade fever [100.4 F] associated with a headache, malaise, sore throat, and pain in joints and muscles. In the second week of infection, the person develops enlargement of lymph nodes in the neck and armpits. Some men develop moderate enlargement of spleen, the condition is known as splenomegaly. The spleen is the largest lymph gland in the body located in the left upper quadrant of the abdomen just below the ribs. Other symptoms of HIV in men include loss of appetite, nausea, vomiting, and persistent dry cough. Men in AIDS stage can develop opportunities infections such as pneumonia, brain infection with toxoplasmosis and yeast infections. The weak immune system in AIDS stage can also lead to other unusual conditions such as Lymphoma [cancer of lymphnodes], Kaposi’s sarcoma [cancer of soft tissues].
HIV Symptoms in Women
Specific HIV symptoms in women are different from symptoms of HIV infection in men, except early symptoms. Within a couple of weeks after the HIV infection, many women experience influenza-like symptoms and some women may not develop any symptoms for many years after the infection. As the infection progresses, HIV symptoms in women include swelling of lymph nodes in the neck, armpits, and groins, frequent fevers with night sweats, rapid weight loss, constant fatigue, loss of appetite, diarrhea and white spots in the mouth.
Specific HIV symptoms in women are subtle and they may not be perceived as warning signs of infection. Often, these symptoms are mistaken for other conditions. Most commonly experienced HIV symptoms in women include recurrent severe vaginal infections, pelvic infections such as Pelvic Inflammatory Disease [PID] which does not respond to the treatment, and abnormal pap smears. Other HIV symptoms in women include genital ulcers, genital warts, recurrent vaginal yeast infections, and severe mucosal herpes infections. Pap smear shows dysplasia, the cervical smear indicates abnormal changes in the cervical cells. Vaginal infections are common HIV symptoms in women which include bacterial vaginosis, and common Sexually Transmitted Diseases [STDs] such as Gonorrhea, Chlamydia, and Trichomoniasis. Due to a weak immune system, women develop genital warts which are caused by another type of virus called human papillomavirus. Genital ulcers caused by severe infection of herpes simplex virus can affect a woman’s quality of life. Frequent vaginal yeast infections indicate low body immunity, which are predominant HIV symptoms in women. Vaginal yeast infections are common and easily treated in normal women, but in women, with HIV infection they are persistent and difficult to treat because of low body immunity.