Caring for HIV/ AIDS patients

Acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS) is the disease that results from damage to one’s immune system caused by the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) infection. The disease begins as HIV infection, wherein the person still feels healthy. However, as symptoms occur, the disease may be called AIDS.
HIV virus can be transmitted through sexual contact, blood transfusion, and pregnancy (from mother to child). Because the virus attacks the immune system, various infections that would not affect physically normal individuals would afflict the AIDS patient.
There is still no vaccine or cure for AIDS. Treatment with anti-retroviral medications can only help stabilize the patient’s symptoms.

Four stages of HIV/AIDS
1. Stage I (Primary Infection). The person experiences “flu-like” symptoms and will test positive for HIV.
2. Stage II (Asymptomatic Illness). The person is HIV positive but doesn’t have any symptoms of the disease yet. This “honeymoon period” may last around three to 10 years.
3. Stage III (Symptomatic Illness). As the immune system weakens because of the HIV virus, the person now develops symptoms such as fever, fatigue, night sweats and weight loss.
4. Stage IV (Advanced disease). The disease takes a turn for the worse and the person develops so-called opportunistic infections from bacteria, viruses and fungi. Based on the number of infections or a low CD4 count (a certain kind of white blood cell called T helper cells) of less than 200, the person is diagnosed with AIDS.

Testing For HIV
The HIV test works by detecting antibodies produced by a person after exposure to the virus. A common problem is when to do the HIV test. If a person has become infected with the HIV virus, how long is the lag time before the person tests positive?
According to studies, most persons will develop a positive HIV test within two to eight weeks after exposure. Moreover, around 97 percent will develop these antibodies within three months of exposure.
A few rare cases (less than three percent) will take six months to become positive. Because of this, experts recommend that a person gets an HIV test at six weeks and at three months after exposure. It is optional to take another test at six months after exposure.
Healthcare workers are exposed to risk from accidental needle prick injuries from an HIV patient. Should this happen, antiretroviral drugs may be given as a post-exposure prophylaxis, which can reduce their risk of getting HIV by 80 percent.

Don’ts and do’s for HIV patients
Don’ts:
1. Don’t share needles for drug use.
2. Don’t donate your blood or body organs.
3. Don’t share your toothbrushes and razors with other people. These items could be stained by fresh blood, and may accidentally spread the virus to other people.
Do’s:
1. Abstain from sex. The best way to avoid getting HIV and other sexually-transmitted diseases is to abstain from sex until one gets married.
2. If you do have sex, use a condom always to protect yourself. The correct use of a male latex condom can greatly reduce transmission of the disease, although no method is 100% effective.
3. This is difficult but you have to inform other persons you’ve had sex with that you are HIV positive. Unless you do that, your past partners may have no idea that they may be HIV positive and could be spreading the disease to other people.
It is your responsibility to inform your past and future partners about your real status. This is the only way to help prevent the spread of HIV-AIDS.

Health tips for HIV patients
1. Find an infectious disease doctor or a doctor who knows how to treat HIV cases.
2. Follow your doctor strictly. Some treatment schedules involve taking several pills every day. Some of these pills have side effects so you need to work with your doctor.
3. Don’t smoke, drink or use drugs. These vices can weaken the body even more.
4. Get vaccinated for pneumonia and flu.
5. Eat a healthy diet. Take more fruits and vegetables. You need to support your body and immune system with healthy food. Ask your doctor if vitamins and supplements can help.
6. Avoid potentially unhealthy foods like raw oysters, sushi, sashimi and half-cooked meat products. These may have parasites in them.
7. Drink eight to 10 glasses of distilled or filtered water.
8. Have regular exercise when you feel up to it. Rest and sleep more when you feel weak.
9. Keep your hands clean. Wash your hands often with soap and water.
10. Be careful with animals. Animals may carry diseases and parasites that could infect you.
11. Reduce stress by taking up yoga, meditation, listening to music and reading inspirational books.

What is the treatment for HIV and AIDS?
1. Antiretroviral medicine. These potent drugs can slow down the progression of the disease.
2. HAART (highly active antiretroviral therapy) regimen. This treatment uses a combination of three or more drugs which decreases the patient’s total burden of HIV, maintains function of the immune system, and prevents opportunistic infections that often lead to death. Your doctor will adjust the medicine to fit your needs.
3. Treatment of infections. If a person’s CD4 count falls below 200, then there is a higher risk of getting other infections. Your doctor will give additional medicine for these opportunistic infections. Watch out for symptoms of fever, weight loss, breathing problems, rashes and mouth sores. Visit your doctor and dentist regularly.
Fortunately, patients taking the HAART regimen can prevent or delay the lowering of their CD4 count. That is why it is important to get tested early so that treatment can be started soon.

Special advice for pregnant women with HIV
If you are pregnant and have HIV, consult your doctor on how to prevent transmitting the virus to your baby. Although the risk of passing HIV is around 25 percent, we can reduce this risk by giving the mother antiretroviral drugs. After childbirth, the baby will still need to take medicine to prevent HIV infection. In addition, do not breastfeed your baby because the virus can be passed through breast milk.
Finally, proper knowledge is the most important means for preventing HIV and AIDS. Follow the ABCs of AIDS prevention:
A – Abstain from sex
B – Be faithful
C – Careful in sex; use condom
D – Don’t share needles
E – Educate yourselves about HIV-AIDS.
Take care and be safe.

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