November 29, 2015
font size

Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) (cont.)

Medical Author:
Medical Author:
Medical Editor:

What are complications of an HIV infection?

Complications of HIV infection most often stem from impairment of the immune system, especially CD-4 lymphocyte-mediated immunity. As HIV enters stage 3, the immune impairment predisposes patients to AIDS-defining conditions such as infections and cancers. With effective treatment, many patients will not progress to stage 3 infection. There is increasing evidence of direct HIV effects on various end organs and indirect effects via HIV-associated inflammation. End-organ damage may occur at all stages of infection. Although ART is effective in prolonging life and reducing the risk of disease progression, all treatment regimens have side effects, which range from minor problems like fatigue to more serious problems like liver damage.

What is the prognosis of an HIV infection?

Without treatment, HIV infection progresses to AIDS in approximately 10 years, with death following within three years after onset of AIDS. With appropriate treatment, a 20-year-old with HIV infection can expect to live to reach 71 years of age. This dramatic increase in life expectancy emphasizes the need for early diagnosis and treatment. Moreover, with newer treatment regimens and guidelines, there is every reason to think that life expectancy will continue to increase in patients who are able to receive appropriate treatment. There are some factors that decrease life expectancy, including use of illicit drugs and the coexistence of other conditions like chronic hepatitis.

Is it possible to prevent the transmission of HIV?

It's possible to prevent HIV transmission by eliminating sexual intercourse with an infected person and avoiding exposure to potentially contaminated body fluids. Unfortunately, many people with HIV do not know they are infected and inadvertently spread the virus. Treatment can reduce the amount of virus in semen and secretions, but it does not completely eliminate the risk of HIV transmission. A good rule for dating is to assume that sexual partners are infected unless known to be otherwise. Using condoms with every sexual encounter reduces the risk of infection, although it does not eliminate the risk because condoms may break or leak. Needle-exchange programs have reduced the risk of new infection in populations that use illicit drugs. As discussed above, mother-to-child transmission can be dramatically reduced by treating the infected mother during pregnancy, treating the baby at birth, and avoiding breastfeeding. Items that may be contaminated with blood, such as razors or toothbrushes, should not be shared.

Health-care workers who have had a needle stick or other exposure to HIV-contaminated blood should be evaluated to determine whether or not they should take medications as prophylaxis. The types of medicine and the duration of treatment are dependent on the degree of exposure.

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 3/3/2014


WebMD Daily

Get breaking medical news.

Use Pill Finder Find it Now See Interactions

Pill Identifier on RxList

  • quick, easy,
    pill identification

Find a Local Pharmacy

  • including 24 hour, pharmacies

Interaction Checker

  • Check potential drug interactions
Search the Medical Dictionary for Health Definitions & Medical Abbreviations