HIV and AIDS
What Infections Do People With AIDS Get?
People with AIDS are extremely vulnerable to infection, called AIDS-defining illnesses, and often exhibit the following conditions:
- Kaposi's sarcoma, a skin tumor that looks like dark or purple blotches on the skin or in the mouth
- Mental changes and headaches caused by fungal infections or tumors in the brain and spinal cord
- Shortness of breath and difficulty breathing because of infections of the lungs
- Severe malnutrition
- Chronic diarrhea
How Is AIDS Diagnosed?
If a person with HIV infection has a CD4 count that drops below 200 -- or if certain infections appear (AIDS-defining illnesses) -- that person is considered to have AIDS.
How Is HIV Treated?
We've come a long way from the days when diagnosis with HIV equaled a death sentence. Today, there are a variety of treatments that, when used in combination, can significantly slow down and in some cases stop altogether, the progression of HIV infection.
After HIV infection is confirmed, your doctor will start you on a drug regimen consisting of several drugs. Combinations of different types of anti-HIV drugs sometimes are called ART, for antiretroviral therapy (HIV is a kind of virus called a retrovirus).
Taking ART therapy is very manageable; yet it isn’t necessarily easy. These drugs must be taken at the right time, every single day. Also, a range of side effects may occur, including: diarrhea, nausea, rash, vivid dreams, or abnormal distribution of body fat. And, especially if medications are taken incorrectly or inconsistently, the virus can mutate, or change, into a strain resistant to treatment. The good news is that there are now several HIV medications that are only taken once a day. If there is resistant virus, however, these may not work and other medication options must be used.
If your disease has progressed to AIDS, your treatment may also include drugs to combat and prevent certain infections.
How Do I Know If the HIV Treatments Are Working?
Your doctor can monitor how well your HIV treatment is working by measuring the amount of HIV in your blood (also called the viral load.) The goal of treatment is to get the viral load undetectable on labs tests; ideally less than 20 copies. This does not mean the virus is gone or cured; rather, it means the medication is working and must be continued.