A person with HIV is very vulnerable to different illnesses or infections especially if he's unaware that he's HIV positive and not taking any treatment such as ARV or simply having a healthy lifestyle.
There are all kinds of infections that can attack a person whose body has been weakened by HIV. We call such infections opportunistic infections because the HI virus has destroyed your immune system, they have the perfect opportunity to attack your body. These infections will not usually be found in a person with a normal, healthy immune system.
Opportunistic infections can include swollen glands, mouth infections, skin conditions, brain infections, lung infections and serious weight loss. Let's take a look at these in more detail.
Swollen glands or enlarged glands can occur in the earlier phase of infection, but then disappear again completely. This swelling is an indication that the person's body is fighting the HI virus and is not due to the glands being infected. During the fourth phase however, lymphomas or glandular cancers can develop. There are different types of glandular cancers. The types of lymphomas most commonly associated with HIV infection are called non-Hodgkin's lymphomas or B-cell lymphomas. In these types of cancers, certain cells of the lymphatic system grow abnormally. They grow rapidly growing into tumors.
Thrush is an ailment that commonly occurs in perfectly healthy babies. But when the effect of the HI virus seriously affects their immune system, adults also tend to develop thrush. It is quite normal to find these yeast-like fungi in the mouth, skin, intestinal tract and vagina, but they usually do not make people ill. However, when a person's immune system is suppressed, these fungi can start growing like wildfire to cause thrush of the mouth. The infection can even spread the body and result in death.
People with AIDS may develop brain infections, including meningitis, toxoplasmosis and tuberculosis. Others contract infections which attack the eye nerves, causing the person to gradually go blind. One of the most feared brain diseases is dementia. It is a disease most commonly found in older people, but people with AIDS also suffer from it. The symptoms of dementia are as follows: the person's mental state deteriorates; they have a very short attention span and cannot concentrate or remember.
A wide variety of condition affecting the skin can occur. These vary from athlete's foot in the early stages of HIV infection (it is very common for people with a healthy immune system to get athlete's foot - people with HIV infection are affected much more often and severely) to Kaposi's sarcoma - a kind of skin cancer resulting from AIDS. Shingles is another opportunistic infection. It is caused by the same virus that causes chicken pox in children and is extremely painful.
Most AIDS patients die as a result of one lung infection or another. The most common lung infection in developed countries is pneumocystis carinii pneumonia or PCP. More than three quarters of all people with HIV will develop PCP if they do not receive treatment to prevent it. It is characterized by chronic fatigue and exhaustion from the slightest exertion. It can easily be identified by X-ray. TB also commonly occurs as an opportunistic infection. Not everybody who becomes infected with the germ that causes TB will develop the disease. Someone who has healthy immune system and becomes infected with the TB germ has a 10% chance of developing TB as a disease during the course of their life. Someone who is HIV positive and who becomes infected with TB however has a 10% chance every year of developing the disease TB because of his weakened immune system.
People with AIDS tend to lose an enormous amount of weight. Weight loss is due to an opportunistic infection. However, some people develop what is known as "wasting syndrome." The HIV wasting syndrome involves involuntary weight loss of 10% of normal body weight, plus either chronic diarrhea (two loose stools per day for more than 30 days) and documented fever (for 30 days or more, intermittent or constant) without the person having an illness or condition other than HIV infection that would explain the condition.
Just remember that these infections are because of a weak immune system - just because someone has some kind of infection or is very thin does not mean he has AIDS! These opportunistic infections or OI can be avoided by means of the ARV or antiretroviral treatment; it gives the HIV positive person a chance to live a normal and much longer life. More information about ARV on my next posts.
Note: Information was excerpt from the "Channels of Hope" manual.