AIDS is a syndrome caused by the HIV virus. It is when a person’s immune system is too weak to fight off many infections, and develops when the HIV infection is very advanced. This is the last stage of HIV infection where the body can no longer defend itself and may develop various diseases, infections and if left untreated, death. There is currently no cure for HIV or AIDS. However, with the right treatment and support, people can live long and healthy lives with HIV.
1. Asymptomatic infection – After seroconversion, virus levels are low and replication continues slowly. CD4 and CD8 lymphocyte levels are normal. This stage has no symptoms and may persist for years together.
2. Persistent generalised lymphadenopathy (PGL) – The lymph nodes in these patients are swollen for three months or longer and not due to any other cause.
3. Symptomatic infection – This stage manifests with symptoms. In addition, there may be opportunistic infections. This collection of symptoms and signs is referred to as the AIDS-related complex (ARC) and is regarded as a prodrome or precursor to AIDS.
4. AIDS – this stage is characterized by severe immunodeficiency. There are signs of life-threatening infections and unusual tumours. This stage is characterized by CD4 T-cell count below 200 cells/mm3.
5. There is a small group of patients who develop AIDS very slowly, or never at all. These patients are called nonprogressors. The pathological spectrum of HIV infection is changing as the infection spreads into new communities with different potential opportunistic diseases, and as medical science devises drugs against HIV replication.
Since HIV reporting began in Canada in 1985, a cumulative total of 76,275 positive HIV test reports have been reported to PHAC. In 2012 alone, 2,062 HIV cases were reported up to December 31st, which represents a 7.8% decrease from the 2011 reports (2,237 cases) and is the lowest number of annual HIV cases since reporting began in 1985.The number of new HIV infections (incidence) may be decreasing among people who inject drugs, females and Aboriginal people. According to 2011 national HIV estimates: An estimated 71,300 Canadians were living with HIV at the end of 2011. This represents an increase of 7,300 people (11%) since 2008. HIV prevalence increased during the 1980s, slowed down in the mid 1990s, but began to rise again in the late 1990s. This increase is a result of both new HIV infections and fewer deaths due to effective treatment options.
HIV is usually treated with HAART (highly active antiretroviral therapy), a potent combination of anti-HIV medications. HAART will not cure HIV, but it can reduce the amount of virus in the blood, improve the immune system, and slow the progression of the disease. At least three medications are used together. Using multiple medications that work in different ways helps prevent the virus from becoming resistant to the treatment. The risk of resistance increases when fewer medications are used, when too low a dose is taken, or when a medication is stopped, even if this only happens for a short period of time. · Effective treatment of people living with HIV can reduce the viral load to undetectable levels and lower the risk of HIV transmission. · There may still be a risk of HIV transmission when the viral load is undetectable because there is still virus in the bodily fluids. · Treatment as a form of prevention is an important population-level approach to prevention.