Living and Coping with HIV (Resources for HIV Sufferers)

Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) is a virus that causes Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome (AIDS). There are multiple ways in which it can be contracted included blood transfer, semen, vaginal fluid, or breast milk. The major causes for the spread of HIV include unsafe sex, contaminated needles, breast milk as well as to babies during birth. People with HIV who go on living their lives untreated almost always develop AIDS; however by understanding the disease, having the right lifestyle and taking the proper medication, health can be improved and the onset of AIDS can be delayed significantly.

Stages of HIV
There are four stages to HIV. These are:

Primary HIV Infection: This stage lasts a few weeks with symptoms similar to having a flu excluding congestion in the nose and chest. What people do feel is fever, sever aches in the joints, nausea, swollen glands, chronic diarrhea and weight loss.
Asymptomatic Stage: This stage lasts for approximately 10 years and during this time no major symptoms reveal themselves, though swollen glands may be present. This is because the immune system is fighting the virus. HIV is not dormant during this phase, instead it is active in the lymph nodes. A very important test, called the Viral Load Test, is used to determine the amount of HIV that escapes into the body. The results of these tests are critical in the treatment of HIV.
Symptomatic HIV Infection: During this stage the immune system starts to fail due to exhaustion from fighting the virus during the previous stage and the HIV virus becomes stronger in the body. The symptoms that start occurring in the body are not due to the virus directly, rather from other infections that take advantage of the weakened immune system. Medication can be taken to alleviate these symptoms but if the underlying HIV virus is not treated the situation will continue to worsen.
Progression from HIV to AIDS: Once again, due to the ever progressing weakening of the immune system, strong infections such as cancer can start to occur. At this stage HIV eventually becomes AIDS. The World Health Organization has classified a clinical criteria used to determine AIDS. A person is considered to have AIDs if their condition falls in these criteria, their CD4 count falls below 200 cells mm/mm3 or less than 15%.

AIDS Support Group: Stages of HIV Infection
The Body: The complete HIV/AIDS Resource
AIDS: How HIV behaves without medication

Treatments for HIV
Though there is no cure for HIV there are a number of medications which can improve the sufferer's quality of life and delay the onset of AIDS for longer periods of time. Different types of medications block the virus in various ways. HIV research shows best results when combination therapy is used by combining at least three different drugs from two different categories. This prevents the HIV virus from mutating and becoming immune to the medications being used. The categories of HIV drugs are:

NNRTI's: Non-nucleoside reverse transcriptase inhibitors work by disabling a specific protein which HIV needs to reproduce. Examples are efavirenz, etravirine and nevirpaine.
NRTI's: Nucleoside reverse transcriptase inhibitors are 'fake' building blocks that HIV needs to reproduce. These fake blocks contain faults which essentially slow the virus from copying itself. Examples are abacavir and combination drugs emtricitabine and tenofovir.
PI's: Protese inhibitors disable a protein that HIV needs to reproduce. Examples include atazanavir and darunavir.
Entry or fusion inhibitors: This category of drugs prevents HIV from entering the CD4 cells. Examples are enfuvirtide and maraviroc.
Integarse Inibitors: This category again disables a protein, one which HIV specifically uses to insert itself into the CD4 cells.

Medicine Net: HIV Management
AIDS Information: (.pdf) HIV and its treatment, what you should know
National Institute of Allergy and Infection Diseases: Treatment of HIV

Beyond Medication: A Healthy Lifestyle
Besides taking medications, there are many different lifestyle changes which can be made to improve the quality of life of someone who's been infected with HIV. These changes range from improving food intake to exercising. Before making any major decisions in changing lifestyle it's important to consult a doctor to be able to manage any risks associated with the change. Below are details of the two most important changes that a person with HIV needs to make in their lifestyle:

Eating a more nutritious diet: By improving dietary intake a person with HIV can help slow down the progression to AIDS, improve their weight and prevent weight loss (which usually occurs with the virus) as well as improve their overall feeling of well-being, even with the symptoms that HIV can bring on. A healthy diet for someone with HIV includes whole grains, low fat dairy products, protein and lots of fresh fruits and vegetables. Multivitamins are also a good idea to take, but remember to consult the doctor first. Fried food and sugary drinks, such as processed juices and sodas, should be eliminated.

Exercising: Regular, moderate exercise helps improve muscle mass, improves breathing, reduces stress, increases bone strength, improves appetite, improves sleep, and helps control glucose levels. People with HIV are especially prone to dehydration, losing body mass and infections from injuries so it's important to talk to the doctor about the type and frequency of exercise.
Other important changes that should be made in the lifestyle of a person with HIV include:
Quitting smoking
Stopping illicit drug use
Practicing safer sex
Getting tested and treated for STD's
Taking steps to prevent infection
i-base: HIV treatment information base with a Q&A on lifestyle modification
Medscape Today: Lifestyle modification program in HIV patients
Health Library: Lifestyle changes to manage HIV and AIDS

Support Groups for HIV
For someone who is living with HIV, having a support group to discuss day to day difficulties or even to provide support to someone else with HIV is a good way to improve mental and emotional health. Below are some links that will provide information on both online and offline support systems for people with HIV or AIDS.
New Zealand Aids Foundation
AIDS Action Europe
Mama's Health
Daily Strength HIV Support Group
NPL Support Group
HIV Support (in English and Spanish)

Other Resources for living with AIDS
CRS Voices: Support for people living with HIV
HIV/AIDS Tribe: A website dedicated to supporting people with HIV and AIDS
Living with HIV: A website with details on the symptoms, tests and treatments
National Association of People Living with HIV/Aids: Living with HIV
A Positive Life: Having a healthy lifestyle while living with HIV

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