What Is Hiv?
HIV stands for Human Immunodeficiency Virus. It is a virus which causes AIDS (Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome). It was first discovered in 1976 when researchers at the National Cancer Institute in Maryland found that two men living with HIV were infected with cancer cells. They named the disease Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome or AIDS. Since then, many other diseases have been linked to HIV infection. Some of these include:
Acute Kaposi’s Sarcoma (AIDS)
Acute Myelogenous Leukemia (AIDS)
Cancer of the Prostate (AIDS)
Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (AIDS)
Infectious Diseases are caused by viruses. Viruses are microscopic organisms that live inside your body and can infect any type of cell in your body. These viruses cause diseases because they change your normal cellular functions so that they no longer function properly. For example, if a virus infects your liver, it will make it unable to produce enough of certain substances needed for proper functioning.
When this happens, the person becomes sick and may die from other illnesses such as blood clots or organ failure.
How Does HIV Cause Diarrhea?
The main way that HIV causes diarrhea is through its effects on the immune system. The immune system is a complex network of organs, tissues, and cells that work together to fight disease. When you get an infection or disease, special immune cells detect it and begin the process of fighting it off.
In people with HIV, the virus infects and eventually destroys certain immune cells. When enough of these are destroyed, people can become severely immunocompromised. This means that their immune systems are no longer able to fight off even simple infections, like diarrhea.
How Do I Know If I Have HIV or AIDS?
If you think you have been exposed to the virus, talk to your doctor about getting tested. Because the virus weakens the immune system, it can take a long time for symptoms of an infection to show up after being infected. This is called the “incubation period”. The average incubation period for HIV is 7 to 11 days, but it can be as short as 1 week or as long as 3 months.
In the initial stages of HIV, you may not experience any symptoms at all. Other people may experience flu-like symptoms within a month of exposure like:
After the initial infection period ends, the virus moves into a “latent” phase in which people do not experience any symptoms but the virus continues to damage the immune system. This phase can last from several years to over a decade, but eventually the virus begins to damage the immune system enough that opportunistic infections begin to occur.
As a rule of thumb, if you have a symptom that doctors associate with HIV or AIDS, then you probably have AIDS. This is because it is likely that you have been infected with HIV. Because of this, opportunistic infection is a common precursor to a positive diagnosis of AIDS. These symptoms include:
Persistent Muscle Weakness
General Unhealthy Feeling
If these or other symptoms persist for more than two weeks, you should see your doctor.
How Is HIV/AIDS Diagnosed And Treated?
There is no cure for HIV or AIDS. However, proper treatment can make the virus nearly undetectable in the bloodstream and prevent the development of AIDS. Treatment usually involves a combination of antiretroviral drugs to keep the virus from multiplying. These drugs are taken daily and have been highly effective in suppressing the virus and preventing AIDS.
Diarrhea is one of the most common symptoms of HIV. Fortunately, there are a wide range of antidiarrheal medications that can relieve the symptoms immediately. Some over-the-counter medications like Imodium have been proven to be extremely effective. Drinking large quantities of fluid and getting enough rest are also important.
In many cases, the diarrhea should subside within a few days.
Other treatments are available to help with the other symptoms and to prevent death from disease caused by the virus.
Living With HIV And AIDS
Once diagnosed with HIV or AIDS, it is important to take the medications exactly as prescribed and to not skip doses. Skipping doses will cause the virus to become resistant to the drugs and they will no longer be effective. The only option at this point would be to take a different drug, which may or may not still be effective. This could dramatically increase the cost of treatment and possibly cause unwanted side effects.
People with HIV or AIDS are encouraged to not make major life decisions, like having children, getting married, or changing jobs while dealing with the diagnosis. The reason for this is that people with HIV can develop AIDS and die from an opportunistic infection within a few years of receiving the diagnosis.
So this is it: you have been diagnosed with HIV or AIDS. You may be feeling scared or a mixture of several emotions right now. It is important for you to seek support from friends, family, and others who are dealing with the same thing as you. There are many communities that provide support and resources for people with HIV and their loved ones.
Most doctors and medical professionals can direct you to these groups. Be sure to print out this article and take it with you to your first doctor’s appointment.
Living with HIV and AIDS is hard, but you can do it!
Our readers have shared their experience with this condition:
Dana’s Story When I was first diagnosed with HIV at age 16 I thought my life was over. I didn’t think I could tell anyone for fear of what they would think of me. I kept it a secret for quite a while, until my sister found out on her own and called me out on it. I was always her best friend and to see the disappointment in her eyes broke my heart.
I finally got up the nerve to tell my mom who also reacted in a way I couldn’t comprehend. She hugged me and told me she loved me and it would be ok. I found out that she had actually known for quite awhile but didn’t want to tell me because she was worried about how I would react. From that moment on I came to realize that my life wasn’t over and that I still had a lot to live for. My mom sat me down and explained to me that I still had options and there were things we could do to help prolong my life span. I decided right then and there that I was going to live life to the fullest and not let this disease take over my life. I went on to finish high school, participate in several sports, and even dated a little. My mom made sure any of my physicals at the doctors included an HIV check up. During this time there wasn’t a lot of accuracy when it came to testing and I can remember several times having to go back because they thought my tests came back positive, only to find out that the test was wrong. Over time I had become so use to the idea of having HIV that it just became part of my life, but something still felt off. After several tests at different doctors I was finally diagnosed properly and it turns out I actually didn’t have HIV after all! My body still didn’t feel right and after several more tests and doctors I finally got some answers. It turns out that the HIV test is extremely hard to identify correctly. The needles they use to draw blood can sometimes have trace amounts of HIV on them which is then introduced into the persons blood which in turn tricks the test into thinking you have it. I was devastated to learn that all these years I thought I had HIV, I was actually fighting a battle with a false positive. My mom was so relieved that she cried when I finally got the correct diagnosis. We never really talked about all this until recently, but after everything we both learned to forgive and forget and now we are closer than we have ever been.
I know I had a few options on how I could have handled this situation. Denial was probably the first one that comes to mind. I could have easily just continued on in life believing that I had it and not face my problems. This would have led to several problems down the road that I had no idea how to deal with and may have caused more emotional trauma then if I had faced the situation head on.
I also know that I could have reacted in a completely different way as well. Some people with this type of diagnosis can react extremely violently towards those who are closest to them. I can’t imagine the pain my mom would have felt if I had lashed out at her. I’m not sure I could ever forgive someone if they treated me that way, and I’m glad I didn’t have to find out.
I know this experience has probably changed me in some way. Everyone goes though something in their life that changes them in some way and this is the event that has changed me the most. I just hope that I have grown from this experience and learned how to deal with pain in a rational manner.
So I guess this is where my story ends, not with a cliffhanger like on TV but with me just trying to move on with my life and be the best person I can be.
An afterword: This writing was done by a friend of mine as part of a school project. He wanted to share it with me since we had several classes together. He said he really wanted the opinion of someone who has been through something similar.
I am not sure I agree with all that he has said and to be honest I am shocked that he wrote some of this since I only briefly mentioned what had happened to me. Maybe it is better that way as now he knows nothing about me. I can’t imagine having to deal with something so private being aired to the world.
Since I haven’t spoken or written much about what happened to me it is odd that he pinpoints a few things that really make me question if he can only be writing this based on my own experiences.
Did I give too much away? Was I not supposed to show this to anyone?
I really hope I didn’t mess anything up for him. Oh well, maybe someone who has also been through something similar will find this and gain some inspiration or something from it.
Thank you for sharing that, I’m glad it helped in some way.
I don’t know if you are aware, but I lost my sister a few months ago. I didn’t tell anyone besides my parents and I still haven’t really dealt with it.
What exactly happened?
It was a car crash that was deemed to be her fault since she was driving carelessly.
The thing is, up until now I could never figure out why she would act the way she acted or make the decisions that she made when she drove that night. I only recently found out that she was suffering from depression and other related issues.
It’s easy to see now that something must have been wrong with her mentally, but I never noticed at the time because of how outgoing she was perceived to be.
I’m not trying to say I’m glad or that I wanted her to die or anything like that, but there is a part of me that almost feels like she is still here in some way. Sometimes it feels nice.
Thank you for telling me about your sister, it is never easy to deal with loss especially when it involves a loved one.
I don’t want to seem forward, but I have recently had my own experience with loss and your words did help me cope with it so if you ever need anyone to talk you could try talking to me.
Oh, one more thing before I go.
You didn’t show me this to try to gain sympathy for this unknown project of yours did you?
A concerned citizen.
Working with computers isn’t exactly brain surgery, but it doesn’t take a rocket scientist either. Anyone can do it. Just be careful what you search for on the internet and make sure you always have antivirus software running.
Maybe that’s why I like doing it so much, because it’s so easy. After my sister died I was basically useless for months and pretty depressed as well. This was the only thing I was able to do without thinking about it too much. Well that and playing my stupid ukulele, but I don’t think you want to hear me play that.
Maybe I should try and take a class or something to learn something new. I’m just not sure what. It’s not like I can do any kind of public speaking. The thought of having to stand up in front of a class of people terrifies me.
Maybe I should try something where I don’t have to be around other people. That way if I make a mistake it’s just me and not everyone else in the room.
I hope this message finds you well. I wanted to thank you again for your story, which I read again before writing this. Your words really helped me through a very rough patch and I will always cherish our correspondence.
Since I last wrote to you, my life has changed quite a bit. I actually did confront my boss about the sexual harassment, turns out having evidence of it was a lot more helpful then I thought it would be. I even got a raise and a promotion!
I have also met someone special through an online dating site, so maybe there is some hope for me yet. Life has been pretty good to me as of late.
I apologize if this message is short or if it sounds a bit rushed, but I need to get to my new job. (I work as a waitress at a restaurant now)
Thank you for your words of wisdom and encouragement and hopefully I will talk to you again sometime.
All the best,
Maybe I could try something like that. They have online classes for everything these days.
I really should do something.
Something that I love to do, but would be miserable trying to make a living at it.
What did I enjoy doing as a kid?
I used to love playing video games, but I would never be able to make a living at that.
Then it hits me. I always enjoyed reading and writing back in grade school. I mean I wasn’t the best at it, but I had a passion for it.
Maybe I could be a writer.
Sounds crazy, but maybe I could try it and if it doesn’t work out then I can always quit. I still have my job at the grocery store so I wouldn’t be totally penniless.
That’s it. I’m going to become a writer and tell the world your story. If anyone tries to stop me I’ll just produce your letter that confirms that I know you and everything will be cool.
I’m a little nervous, but also very excited.
I start making plans on how I’m going to do it and when I’m going to start. The main thing is that I’m doing this for myself and no one can stop me.
You know what?
I think this is the first time in a long time that I feel happy. This might sound silly, but I feel like my life has new meaning and purpose now.
I’m sorry if I don’t write for a while, but I promise that I’ll be back to tell you the rest of my story as it happens.
And thank you for listening.