AIDS: Causes, Risk Factors, Symptoms, Treatment

AIDS/HIV (Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome)

AIDS (Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome) is a condition caused by HIV (Human Immunodeficiency Virus). HIV attacks the body's immune system, specifically CD4 cells (T cells), which help the immune system fight off infections. As HIV destroys more CD4 cells and weakens the immune system, individuals become more susceptible to infections and certain cancers. AIDS is the most severe phase of HIV infection, characterized by severely weakened immunity and increased vulnerability to opportunistic infections.

If you have engaged in risky behaviors or exhibit symptoms like unexplained weight loss, persistent fever, or recurrent infections, consult with an Infectious Disease specialist or a General Practitioner in the Internal Medicine department for HIV/AIDS testing and management.


Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome (AIDS) is caused by the Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV), which attacks the immune system, specifically targeting CD4 cells (T-helper cells) that play a crucial role in the body's defense against infections. Here are key points explaining the causes of AIDS/HIV:

HIV Transmission: The primary mode of HIV transmission is through unprotected sexual contact with an infected person. This includes vaginal, anal, and oral sex.

Blood Contact: HIV can spread through direct contact with infected blood, such as sharing needles or syringes contaminated with HIV-infected blood (common among intravenous drug users).

Mother-to-Child Transmission: HIV can be transmitted from an HIV-positive mother to her child during pregnancy, childbirth, or breastfeeding. However, antiretroviral medications significantly reduce this risk.

Other Body Fluids: Although less common, HIV can also be transmitted through exposure to other body fluids such as semen, vaginal fluids, rectal fluids, and breast milk.

Occupational Exposure: Healthcare workers may be at risk of HIV infection if they are exposed to HIV-infected blood or needle-stick injuries.

Unsafe Medical Practices: Inadequate infection control practices in healthcare settings can lead to HIV transmission, especially in regions with poor healthcare infrastructure.

Unprotected Anal Sex: This carries a higher risk of HIV transmission compared to other sexual activities due to the fragile nature of the rectal lining.

Multiple Partners: Having multiple sexual partners increases the risk of exposure to HIV.

Risk Factors

  • Unprotected Sexual Contact: Engaging in unprotected sex with an infected partner remains the most common mode of HIV transmission worldwide.
  • Sharing Needles: Injection drug use and sharing of needles or syringes can transmit HIV through contaminated blood.
  • Mother-to-Child Transmission: HIV can be passed from an infected mother to her child during pregnancy, childbirth, or breastfeeding.
  • Blood Transfusions: Although rare in countries with strict blood screening protocols, unsafe blood transfusions or organ transplants can transmit HIV.
  • Occupational Exposure: Healthcare workers may be at risk if they come into contact with infected blood or needle-stick injuries.
  • Lack of Male Circumcision: Studies show that uncircumcised men are at higher risk of HIV infection through heterosexual sex.
  • Multiple Sexual Partners: Having multiple sexual partners increases the likelihood of encountering someone with HIV.
  • Sexually Transmitted Infections (STIs): Infections such as syphilis, herpes, and gonorrhea can increase susceptibility to HIV infection.
  • Substance Abuse: Alcohol and drug use can impair judgment, leading to risky behaviors that increase HIV transmission risk.
  • Poverty and Social Factors: Limited access to healthcare, education, and resources can hinder HIV prevention efforts and increase vulnerability.


Frequent Infections: People with AIDS are more susceptible to opportunistic infections like tuberculosis (TB), pneumonia, and fungal infections. These infections can be severe and difficult to treat.

Weight Loss: Unexplained weight loss and wasting syndrome are common in individuals with AIDS, which can be attributed to both the virus itself and secondary infections.

Fatigue: Persistent tiredness and lack of energy are hallmark symptoms of AIDS. This fatigue can be debilitating and affect daily activities.

Swollen Lymph Nodes: Lymph nodes may become enlarged and tender, particularly in the neck, armpits, or groin.

Skin Rashes or Lesions: HIV can cause various skin problems, including rashes, sores, or lesions that are difficult to heal.

Neurological Symptoms: AIDS can affect the nervous system, leading to symptoms such as confusion, memory loss, and even neurological disorders.

Persistent Diarrhea: Chronic diarrhea is a common gastrointestinal symptom in AIDS patients, often caused by infections or inflammation.

Night Sweats and Fever: Recurrent episodes of night sweats and fever are typical, indicating the body's ongoing immune response to infections.

Cognitive Changes: AIDS-related dementia can occur in advanced stages, affecting cognitive functions such as memory, concentration, and problem-solving.

Opportunistic Cancers: Certain cancers, like Kaposi's sarcoma and lymphomas, are more common in people with AIDS due to their weakened immune system.

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Diagnosis of AIDS/HIV (Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome) typically involves several key steps and considerations:

Initial Screening: It begins with a blood test to detect HIV antibodies or antigens. The most common initial test is the ELISA (enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay) test, which detects antibodies to HIV.

Confirmatory Tests: If the initial ELISA test is positive, a Western blot test is usually conducted to confirm the presence of HIV antibodies.

Viral Load Test: This measures the amount of HIV in the blood and helps in assessing the progression of the disease and the effectiveness of treatment.

CD4 Count: A crucial indicator of immune function, the CD4 count measures the number of CD4 cells (a type of white blood cell) in the blood. A lower CD4 count indicates a weaker immune system.

Screening for Opportunistic Infections: Due to the weakened immune system, people diagnosed with AIDS/HIV are screened for opportunistic infections such as tuberculosis and certain cancers.

Regular Monitoring: HIV/AIDS is a chronic condition requiring ongoing monitoring of viral load, CD4 count, and overall health status to manage treatment and detect any complications early.

Counseling and Support: Diagnosis often involves counseling to discuss treatment options, lifestyle changes, and emotional support to cope with the diagnosis.


The treatment of AIDS/HIV (Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome/Human Immunodeficiency Virus) typically involves a combination of antiretroviral therapy (ART) and management of opportunistic infections.

Antiretroviral Therapy (ART): The cornerstone of treatment, ART consists of a combination of medications that target different stages of the HIV life cycle. This therapy helps suppress the virus, allowing the immune system to recover and reducing the risk of transmission.

Types of ART: There are several classes of antiretroviral drugs, including nucleoside reverse transcriptase inhibitors (NRTIs), non-nucleoside reverse transcriptase inhibitors (NNRTIs), protease inhibitors (PIs), integrase strand transfer inhibitors (INSTIs), and others. Treatment plans often involve a combination (typically three drugs) tailored to the individual's viral strain and health status.

Monitoring and Adherence: Regular monitoring of viral load and CD4 T-cell count guides treatment effectiveness. Adherence to the prescribed ART regimen is crucial for maintaining viral suppression and preventing drug resistance.

Managing Opportunistic Infections: HIV weakens the immune system, making patients susceptible to opportunistic infections (OI). Prophylactic medications may be prescribed to prevent common OIs like tuberculosis and pneumocystis pneumonia.

Supportive Care: Comprehensive HIV care includes managing symptoms, providing nutritional support, addressing mental health needs, and promoting lifestyle changes to enhance overall health.

Prevention and Education: Education on safer sex practices, needle exchange programs, and pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) for high-risk individuals help prevent new HIV infections.

Research and Future Directions: Ongoing research aims to improve treatment efficacy, reduce side effects, and develop a cure for HIV/AIDS.

Preventive Measures

Safe Sex Practices: Use condoms consistently and correctly during sexual activity to reduce the risk of transmission.

Testing and Counseling: Regular testing for HIV helps in early detection. Counseling provides information on prevention and coping strategies.

Needle Safety: Avoid sharing needles or equipment for injecting drugs, as this can transmit HIV.

Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis (PrEP): Medication taken before potential exposure to HIV can reduce the risk of infection, especially for individuals at higher risk.

Education and Awareness: Promoting understanding of HIV transmission modes and dispelling myths reduces stigma and encourages safer behaviors.

Treatment of Sexually Transmitted Infections (STIs): Treating STIs promptly reduces the risk of HIV transmission.

Mother-to-Child Transmission Prevention: Providing antiretroviral treatment to HIV-positive pregnant women reduces the risk of passing the virus to their babies.

Blood Safety: Screening blood donations for HIV ensures safe transfusions.

Promoting Healthy Lifestyles: Supporting overall health through nutrition, exercise, and reducing substance abuse can strengthen the immune system.

Community Support and Advocacy: Building supportive communities and advocating for policies that protect against discrimination and promote HIV prevention.

Implementing these preventive measures comprehensively can significantly reduce the incidence of HIV/AIDS and improve overall public health outcomes.

Do's & Don’t's

Do's Don't 
Do Practice Safe Sex: Use condoms consistently and correctly to reduce the risk of HIV transmission during sexual activity.  Don't Ignore Symptoms: If you experience flu-like symptoms after a potential exposure to HIV, seek medical attention promptly. Early detection and intervention can be crucial. 
Do Communicate Openly: Discuss your HIV status and sexual health with your partner(s). Open communication helps in making informed decisions and reducing the risk of transmission. Don't Assume: Do not assume someone's HIV status based on appearances. It's important to communicate openly and get tested for a clear understanding.
Do Get Vaccinated: Protect yourself from other infections by getting vaccinated against diseases such as Hepatitis B, which can be more severe for individuals with HIV.  Don't Share Personal Items: Avoid sharing personal items like razors or toothbrushes, as they may carry traces of blood that can potentially transmit HIV.
Do Adhere to Medication: If prescribed antiretroviral therapy (ART), take medications consistently as directed. Adherence is crucial for controlling the virus and maintaining overall health.  Don't Stigmatize: Avoid stigmatizing or discriminating against individuals with HIV. Treat everyone with respect and understanding.

If you have engaged in risky behaviors or exhibit symptoms like unexplained weight loss, persistent fever, or recurrent infections, consult with an Infectious Disease specialist or a General Practitioner in the Internal Medicine department for HIV/AIDS testing and management.

Frequently Asked Questions
HIV does not spread through sweat, saliva or urine.It also does not spread by mosquitoes and pets.
An intimate contact with a person who is on antiretroviral therapy does not spread the infection from one to another as the viral load will be undetectably low due to the use of antiretroviral therapy.
Consistent treatment with antiretroviral therapy(ART) medications makes the virus to be present in undectectably low load in the human body. However, it does not completely eliminate the HIV virus from the human body. Thus, prevention is better than cure.
If a pregnant woman is diagnosed with the HIV virus, then health care professional will start her on a combination drugs of antiretroviral therapy (ART), which helps in preventing the HIV transmission from pregnant women to the fetus and from breast feeding mother to the baby. However, if a pregnant woman is not started on antiretroviral therapy (ART) then the risk of transmitting HIV to the fetus is high.
When an individual is diagnosed to have HIV then that person should take Antiretroviral therapy (ART) medications through their life. Generally, the health care professional will advise a combination of ART medications which will be available in a single pill and should be taken at the same time everday without fail.
If a HIV infected individual is started on Antiretroviral therapy (ART) medications and the HIV viral load is undetectably low, then the HIV infected individual does not transmit HIV to their partner through sex.
All the individuals who are diagnosed to have HIV should be started on Antiretroviral therapy (ART) medications irrespective of the presence or absence of any symptoms and even if the HIV infected person is healthy. Delaying treatment for HIV will only reduce the immunity of the infected individual and will put the HIV infected individual at higher risk for transmitting HIV to their partners.
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