The Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) is a sexually transmitted disease that has existed since the 1980s. It was predominantly very common among gay men and spread through unprotected anal and vaginal sex. Today, HIV has taken the lives of 32 million people worldwide and over 2,000 people in Singapore. Because there is currently no cure for the virus and the later stages of the virus can be life-threatening, early detection of HIV at HIV clinics in Singapore is crucial for patients to receive antiretroviral medication early to suppress the effects of the virus before it becomes too severe. HIV can affect the body in many ways, leading to a compromised immune system. Here are three ways that HIV can adversely affect your body.
Acute HIV Infection
The first stage of the HIV infection is known as acute HIV infection. This develops between two to four weeks after the infection. During this period, patients may begin to experience flu-like symptoms such as high fevers, headaches and rashes. Some might even mistake these symptoms for the symptoms caused by dengue fever, a common infection in Singapore. These symptoms may last for a few days to over a week, but usually the body is able to recover from the onset of these symptoms. In this acute stage of the infection, the virus is multiplying rapidly while attacking and destroying the CD4 cells in the immune system that help to fight off infection. Some patients may not experience physical symptoms at this stage, but can still be positive. During this stage, the risk of HIV transmission during sex is considered to be very high.
At this stage, it is recommended that all patients get tested for HIV at an HIV clinic, as starting on antiretroviral therapy (ART) or HIV medication during this stage can be effective in delaying the onset of later stages of the infection.
Chronic HIV Infection
The second stage of the HIV infection is called the chronic HIV infection, or the clinical latency stage. During this stage, patients may not experience any symptoms at all. However, HIV will continue to multiply inside the body, resulting in the potential for transmission to other sexual partners. However, patients who undergo ART and have an undetectable viral load have effectively no risk of transmitting HIV to an HIV-negative partner through sex. In addition, those who take ART can remain in this stage for several decades. Without ART, this stage can last for about 10 years or longer. After which, patients develop the final stage of the HIV infection, called Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome (AIDS).
During this most severe stage, HIV has severely damaged the body’s immune system. As a result, the body is no longer able to fight off opportunistic infections, resulting in symptoms such as recurring fevers, long bouts of diarrhoea and pneumonia. During this stage, patients are likely to have a high viral load and can transmit HIV to others through sex. Patients who have developed AIDS typically live for about 3 more years before succumbing to the infection.