7 reasons why HIV is smarter than us?
A genius is often related to a person who shows an exceptional natural capacity of intellect or denotes the possession of a superior talent in any field.
In the field of viral infection, I consider HIV one of the smartest viruses we know.
Viruses do not have a cell structure and although they reproduce, they do not metabolise on their own and therefore require a host cell to replicate and synthesise new products.
There is still a debate about consider or not virus a living form.
What’s so special about HIV?
1) It attacks the immune system
It’s a known fact that in a war, if we destroy the enemy defences it will be vulnerable.
HIV infects our immune system, your body's natural defense against disease and it particularly targets your "CD4 cells," which includes Th CD4+ cells and macrophages.
HIV takes command of these cells and uses them to reproduce itself, creating millions of new viruses every day.
Th (T helper) cells cannot kill infected cells or pathogens. Th cells are involved in activating and directing other immune cells, and are particularly important in the immune system. They are essential in determining B cell antibody class switching, in the activation and growth of cytotoxic T cells, and in maximizing bactericidal activity of phagocytes such as macrophages.
So, HIV attacks a central point in the immune system and the immune response against the virus will cause even more T cell CD4+ depletion and will help to spread the virus.
HIV also multiplies and remains in immune cells, especially macrophages, for a long time, increasing its chance of spreading to others through exposure.
2) HIV is always changing
HIV is not just one single strain of virus, there are multiple strains that change and adapt quickly within the host, which makes it difficult to the immune system to attack the virus and even more difficult to develop a vaccine.
3) Undetected infection and long latency period
A person can be infected with HIV without developing AIDS.
Many times, when someone is infected develops an Acute Retroviral Syndrome with flu-like symptoms between one and six weeks after infection and that last for two to three weeks. These symptoms are not specific of HIV infection, so it can be undetected.
The virus can also remain in a person's body for many years without causing serious health problems.
During this period, the virus is said to be latent, or inactive. Eventually, however, most people who are infected with HIV develop AIDS. The AIDS phase is related to severe immune dysfunction and opportunistic infections and causes dead with one or two years.
The bigger problem is that during latency period the virus can infect other persons, in particular their sexual partner. Someone can spread the virus without knowing.
4) Transmitted through sex and blood (needles and Mother-to-child) and breast milk.
HIV was first identified as mysterious illness affecting a few gay men in 1981. No one would imagine that something that is not transmitted through air and food would become the epidemic of the 20th.
Sexuality is maybe the weakest feeling among people. It can make them irrational and create taboos that only help to spread the virus.
HIV can affect everyone, it can’t be identified by the good or bad looking of someone but many people still think it can only infect gay men and drug users.
It is important to take steps to reduce your risk of getting HIV. Not having (abstaining from) sex is the most effective way to avoid HIV. If you choose to be sexually active, having sex with one person who only has sex with you and who is uninfected is also effective.
But when you meet someone how can you be sure your partner is HIV negative? You can use a latex condom to help protect both you and your partner from HIV and other STDs but if the relation goes deeper why not thinking about getting tested together.
The problem is that HIV attacks a weak part of humans. Many people are afraid of how people might react if others found out they had been tested and in a relationship if someone suggests getting tested it can be understood in many different ways.
It’s also a fact that people with risk behaviours are more likely to get tested and if the result comes negative those behaviours can be reinforced.
Maybe besides attacking immune system, HIV also attacks our culture and social relationships.
5) Ways to prevent infection might not work – poverty, education, casual mistakes and myths.
Not sharing needles – It’s an effective way to prevent HIV infection and maybe the most effective way to prevent HIV infection are the needles exchange programs. The problem is always the same: poverty, education and casual mistake. There are countries where it might get difficult to get needles; some people don’t know this is a problem or do not exchange the whole needle and all the equipment; others in a casual or desperate moment can share a needle and it’s good to remember that one injection with a needle used by a HIV+ person is enough to infect someone.
Condom use – It’s almost 100% safe preventing sexual HIV infection but one single unprotected sex relation with someone infected is enough to get infected. Also, there are some myths that unprotected oral sex is safe which is wrong. The risk is lower but not null. There is also the problem of access to condoms and correct use.
Some myths avoid condom use, particularly in Africa, as the strong belief that the West wants to control the population growth of Africa by convincing Africans to use condoms, the myth that regular infusions of sperm is required if a woman is to grow up to be beautiful, and that sleeping with a virgin or an animal will rid an infected person from the disease.
Prevent Mother-to-child infection - In the absence of treatment, the transmission rate between the mother to the child is 25%. However, when the mother has access to antiretroviral therapy and gives birth by caesarean section, the rate of transmission is 1%. The risk of infection can be also influenced by the viral load of the mother at birth and breastfeeding. When the mother doesn’t know she is infected or in countries where treatment, caesarean and milk replacement can’t be provided the mother-to-child infection can be highly prevalent.
Male circumcision – It is still in study whether male circumcision is or not an effective way to prevent HIV spread. Even if this practice really reduce HIV spread, the way this information is shared on the news can make men see circumcision as an invisible condom and take part in more risky sexual behaviour. Also, if this practice is not done with all the hygiene measures, it can even increase HIV spread.
6) Ways to prevent the spread might not work – poverty, education, social exclusion and myths.
To avoid the spread of HIV besides preventing new infections it’s important to detect infected people as soon as possible and treat and educate them to care about their health and others. However, for some groups of people HIV can be a distant concern, particularly those who are worried with money, food or living in hostile environment.
In some countries access to HIV test and treatments can be very difficult. Also, some communities refuse to accept the presence of HIV. It is often seen as something that affects other people, promiscuous people, gay people, black people, prostitutes or drug users.
Other communities create such a stigma around HIV that people are afraid to be tested and when tested positive many times they don’t adhere to the correct treatment regime (which can lead to drug resistance) neither take preventive measures to prevent the infection of others.
HIV+ people can also experience some feelings that help the virus spread or delay preventive measures to avoid it. Some of these feelings are denial - often is the first feeling people have when they are diagnosed with HIV. They think the test came out wrong and have difficulties to accept the result; anger - people want to know how they get the virus, they never imagine it would be possible and try to find someone or something to blame. They can develop anger feelings with themselves and with others; sadness and depression and fear and anxiety - when someone is diagnosed, they doesn’t know what to expect and how others will treat him. They may also be afraid of telling people because many still think HIV can be spread through casual contact.
Some of these feelings, like anger, can even cause an increase of risk behaviours (revenge) especially when someone suffers the consequences of social exclusion.
7) HIV treatment optimism can help to spread the virus
New HIV treatments have improved the health and increased the life expectancy of many HIV-positive persons. However, even with early treatment, the risk of HIV transmission still exists. The treatments have raised two new public health issues. One is that enhancements in the health and longevity of HIV-positive persons will likely be accompanied by greater sexual activity, and this in turn increases the opportunity for HIV transmission. The other issue is that the success of the new treatments may be affecting beliefs about the seriousness of HIV and consequently adherence to safer sex practices.
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