Managing Life with HIV: A Virus that Attacks the Immune System


HIV is the virus that causes AIDS. It’s a virus that’s transmitted by blood or
sexual contact, and it attacks the immune system. Untreated, what happens is folks that have
HIV eventually have their immune system suppressed to the point that other infections can start
to crop up; pneumonias, thrush, and other sorts of things that we’d rarely see in other
people who have intact immune systems. People who have newly acquired HIV sometimes
will have flu-like symptoms or mononucleosis symptoms; things like a rash, a sore throat,
a fever. But those aren’t terribly common and lots
of folks who have HIV never even notice that. Most people who have HIV have absolutely no
symptoms until they reach later stages of disease. In later stages of disease, folks can notice
weight loss, fevers, night sweats, swelling of lymph nodes, things along those lines. But it’s really non-specific, so it’s important
that people get tested. We have really fantastic treatments for HIV. Everyone who has HIV, we recommend antiretroviral
therapy, or ART. This is almost always a combination of three
drugs that work together to combat the HIV virus to make sure the virus is no longer
growing in the blood, and to help protect the person’s immune system. Usually today, we can give all three of those
drugs in a single tablet one time of day, and the side effects are very minimal. HIV treatment is for life. We have fantastic treatments for HIV, but
we don’t have any cure. If someone stops HIV treatment kind of midway,
the virus can come back and the immune system can come down. But people who are on treatment, and who are
regularly seeing their physician can have long and full lives and do everything that
someone without HIV can do. They can work. They can play. They can have relationships. They can have children. And really no real limitations as long as
they remain on treatment. Our Ryan White Clinic sees more than 700 patients
from about 25 counties from around this part of Virginia. We have a variety of folks who’ve been involved
in treating HIV since the very early days of the epidemic and have a lot of expertise. And we also have folks who are really deeply
involved in HIV research. And our goal is to provide the very best treatment
possible.

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