What is HIV?
HIV (Human Immunodeficiency Virus) is a virus that attacks the immune system. There are two types of HIV: HIV-1 and HIV-2. HIV-1 is more virulent and more infectious than HIV-2.
HIV can infect a variety of immune cells such as T-helper/CD4 cells, macrophages, and microglial cells. As HIV infects and destroys more CD4 cells and makes more copies of itself, it gradually breaks down a person’s immune system. Even though there is currently no cure for HIV, with the right treatment and support, people affected by HIV have the possibility to live long and healthy lives. If HIV is left untreated, it may take up to 10 or 15 years for the immune system to be severely damaged.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) uses the following categories to classify the stages of the disease:
- Primary HIV infection: It can be asymptomatic or associated with acute retroviral syndrome.
- Stage I: HIV infection is asymptomatic. CD4 count is greater than 500/µl of blood.
- Stage II: Mild symptoms. A CD4 count of less than 500/µl.
- Stage III: Advanced symptoms. CD4 count of less than 350/µl.
- Stage IV or AIDS: Severe symptoms. CD4 count of less than 200/µl.
What is AIDS?
AIDS (Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome) is a set of symptoms caused by the progression of the HIV infection. A person affected by AIDS is characterised by a very weak immune system which is not able to fight off infections anymore. This is the last stage of HIV, when the infection is advanced, and if left untreated will lead to death.
HIV in Cambodia
Cambodia’s battle against HIV began in 1991, when the first case was detected. By 1999, HIV infection rates had grown steadily to 2% of the population. At the moment Cambodia is among the countries in Asia with the highest prevalence of HIV. However, even though Cambodia is one of the few countries that has managed to reverse the spread of HIV transmission, thanks to the support of international and local NGOs and to the assistance received from the government. Between 2003 and 2005, the incidence of HIV among Cambodian adults from ages 15 to 49 decreased from 2% to 1.6%. Since then, HIV prevalence has continued to decrease to 1% in 2006, 0,8% in 2010 and 0,6% in 2015. Moreover, the percentage of HIV-infected pregnant women that received antiretroviral therapy (ART) to reduce the risk of mother-to-child transmission increased from 1,2% in 2003 to 11,2% in 2007 to 32,3% in 2009. Cambodia’s achievements in this area were recognized in 2010 by the United Nations Millennium Development Goal award. However, even though the prevalence of HIV affected people has decreased during the last 30 years, it remains a pressing health and social concern among Khmer people.
Symptoms of HIV will generally follow these 3 phases:
1. acute illness
2. asymptomatic period
3. advanced infection
1. Acute illness
The most common symptoms of this stage of HIV include:
• body rash
• sore throat
Symptoms typically last one or two weeks.
2. Asymptomatic period
After the initial symptoms disappear, HIV may not cause any other symptoms for months or years. During this time, the virus replicates and begins to weaken the immune system.
3. Advanced infection
HIV may break down a person’s immune system. If this happens, HIV will progress to the last stage of the disease, stage 3 HIV or AIDS. A person at this stage has a damaged immune system, condition that makes them more susceptible to opportunistic infections.
These are the stage 3 HIV symptoms:
• nausea, vomiting and diarrhea
• chronic fatigue
• rapid weight loss
• cough and shortness of breath
• recurring fever, chills, and night sweats
• rashes and sores
• swelling of the lymph nodes memory loss, confusion, or neurological disorders menstrual changes (women)
The time it takes for HIV to progress to this stage may be from a few months to 10 years or even longer. Not all the HIV carriers go through this phase.
How does HIV transmit?
- Having anal or vaginal sex with someone who has HIV without using condoms. Either partner can get HIV through vaginal sex, though it is less risky for getting HIV than receptive anal sex.
- Sharing needles or syringes or other equipment used to prepare drugs for injection with someone who has HIV.
HIV may also be spread:
1. From mother to child during pregnancy, birth, or breastfeeding.
2. By being stuck with an HIV-contaminated needle or other sharp object. This risk is mainly for health care workers or people getting a tattoo.
3. Receiving blood transfusions, blood products, or organ/tissue transplants that are contaminated with HIV.
4. Eating food that has been pre-chewed by an HIV-infected person.
5. Being bitten by a person with HIV. (There is no risk of transmission if the skin is not broken.)
6. Contact between broken skin, wounds, or mucous membranes and HIV-infected blood or blood-contaminated body fluids.
HIV is not transmitted by: Air and water, sweat, tears, insects, pets, toilets, food and drinks.
How to treat HIV
Antiretroviral therapy (ART) is the use of a combination of HIV medicines to treat HIV infection. HIV medicines prevent HIV from multiplying. Therefore, even though there is still some HIV, the immune system is strong enough to fight off infections. These medicines are grouped into six classes based on how they fight HIV. The therapy usually includes three HIV medicines from at least two different classes. ART is recommended for everyone who has HIV. ART can’t cure HIV, but it helps people with HIV live longer and better quality lives, also reducing the risk of HIV transmission.
How to prevent HIV:
• Using condoms for sex.
• Avoid intravenous drugs. Never share or reuse needles.
• Take precautions. Use latex gloves and other barriers for protection. Get tested for HIV. Those who test positive for HIV can get the treatment they need and reduce the risk of transmitting the virus to others.