Nowadays, a lot of people who are HIV positive have a longer lifespan compared to the past. Fortunately, having HIV does not mean you are going to die immediately. Many things can still be done so that the HIV-positive individual can live healthy and happy for years. But first, it is important that he remains positive and hopeful. It would be helpful if support from family and significant others is available to help him cope with his anxiety, stress, and emotional needs.
An individual who finds out that he is HIV positive will initially feel angry, guilty, shocked, and scared. These are normal emotions, but they should not persist for a long time. The individual must be able to overcome these emotions and learn to strengthen himself so he can face his daily challenges.
For the HIV-positive individual and his family members, it is important that they know the progression of HIV from infection to being sick with AIDS and eventually will lead to death. There are six stages that compose this process.
Primary HIV Infection
Also known as Acute primary infection, this stage begins with the person being infected with HIV until the immune system works hard to produce antibodies to help combat the virus in the body, which usually occurs between four and eight weeks. It can also last up to 12 weeks. During this window period, the individual is very contagious. The virus is replicating fast, but the damage is not visible on the outside. For some, they may manifest with flu-like symptoms, which include:
- Fever, sore throat, and headache
- Swollen lymph nodes on the inguinal and neck areas
- Muscle and joint pain sometimes accompanied by rashes in the skin
These symptoms appear quickly and are frequently mistaken as just the simple flu or cold.
The Silent Stage
The affected individual experiences perfect health, as if he doesn’t have an illness. It is often called the silent stage since during this time the person doesn’t show to be active. However, on the inside, it is continually attacking the immune system.
During this phase, there are minimal complications that are starting to show because the targeted immune system is slowly weakened. The lymph nodes may not be swollen initially, but at this stage, it will be visible and will persist to be swollen for quite some time, about three months or more. Signs and symptoms that may appear at this phase include:
- Persistent fever and cold sweats
- Decreased energy and appetite, which leads to weight loss
- Vaginal and mouth thrush infections
- Repeated throat infections and mouth ulcers
Five to eight years from the onset of the infection, the immune system is markedly damaged, and it finds defending the body more difficult to do. At the same time, the virus is continuously increasing and spreading throughout the body. The symptoms seen at this stage have already become severe. These include:
- Continuous fever, cold sores, and blisters
- Repeated vaginal and oral thrush (Candida albicans)
- Chronic bacterial infections and skin rashes
- Obvious weight loss
- Swollen lymph nodes
Full Blown AIDS
It is at this stage where anything infectious can practically attack the individual’s body. These infections practically infest the body and take advantage of the already weak immune system. Signs and symptoms include:
- Skin rashes
- Unexplained chest pains and coughing due to pneumonia and tuberculosis
- Rapid weight loss, weakness, and fatigue
- Chronic diarrhea, nausea, and vomiting
- Severe headaches and convulsions due to brain infections
- Reduced ability to focus
- Significant memory loss
- Swollen lymph nodes, spleen, and liver
AIDS is the progressive stage of HIV infection. It is usually declared as AIDS when an individual’s CD4 cells fall below 200. Additionally, one is also diagnosed with AIDS if he has a defining illness, such as pneumonia or lung disease and Kaposi’s sarcoma and other skin cancers.
Within a window of six months to three years from the development of full-blown AIDS, death typically occurs. Individuals who are living with AIDS undergo periods of being very ill, alternating with periods of being healthy. It would be uncommon to hear about someone ‘dying of AIDS.’ Technically, that is not true. A majority of these individuals suffer from different diseases caused by the proliferation of opportunistic infections, which ultimately lead to the individual’s death.
People who know they have AIDS but still don’t take medications mostly only last about three years or less, particularly if they acquired a deadly infection. However, if one is hopeful and is consistently taking his medications and is living a healthy life, he can very possibly live a long, long time.