HIV Risks and Complications

Risks and Complications Of HIV

Who Is At Risk For HIV?

Human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), the virus which causes AIDS, is transmitted primarily through sexual intercourse or the sharing of drug paraphernalia such as needles with an infected person. This means that anyone who is sexually active or a drug user is potentially at risk. Common ways that people become infected with HIV include:

  • Insertive or receptive vaginal intercourse
  • Insertive or receptive anal intercourse
  • Recipients of blood transfusions where the donor is infected with HIV
  • The sharing of needles during intravenous (IV) drug use
  • Being stuck by a needle that was used on an infected person
  • A child becoming infected from an HIV positive mother – during pregnancy, during birth or breastfeeding

There are also specific populations who are at an increased risk of acquiring HIV. Men who have sex with men are much more likely to contract the virus. In fact, gay men and bisexual men account for an estimated 55% of all individuals living with HIV in the United States. This also means that men are disproportionately likely to have HIV compared to women.

People of different races and ethnic groups are also disproportionately likely to have the HIV virus. This doesn’t mean that they are more susceptible to the disease, just that the condition is more common in these groups. The following statistics are from a study conducted by the CDC in 2015.

African Americans are the racial group with the highest proportion of both new and historical diagnoses. Though they made up only 13% of the US population in 2015, an estimated 44% of new HIV diagnoses occurred in African Americans.
Hispanic/Latino Americans are also disproportionately infected with HIV. Nearly 1/5 of new infections occurred in Hispanics who represented only 17% of the US population in 2015
Complications Of HIV

HIV, which causes acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS), affects the body’s immune system. Specifically, the virus targets and attacks cells known as CD4 T cells. These cells help your body to fight off infections. In patients infected with HIV, the body’s capacity to fight off diseases is diminished. Because of this, people with HIV/AIDS are susceptible to what are called opportunistic infections.

Simply put, an opportunistic infection is an infection which would not be a big deal to a healthy HIV-negative person. Because of the weakened immune system and diminished ability to fight the infection, these otherwise tame illnesses can have severe effects. There is an extensive list of infections and cancers that are common with HIV/AIDS.

Cancers Associated With HIV/AIDS

  • Cervical Cancer – Occurs at a much higher rate among HIV positive women
  • Kaposi’s Sarcoma – A form of cancer that manifests as lesions on the skin’s surface
  • Lymphoma – There are a variety of forms of lymphoma and they occur more frequently in HIV positive people.

Infections Associated With HIV/AIDS

  • Candidiasis – An infection which causes inflammation as well as a coating on the body’s mucous membranes (mouth, tongue, esophagus, vagina).
  • Cryptococcal meningitis – This infection affects the body’s central nervous system. Caused by a fungus which is found in soil, meningitis causes inflammation of fluid and membranes encompassing the brain and spinal cord
  • Cryptosporidiosis – Acquired by consuming food or water containing an intestinal parasite common in animals. The parasite grows in bile ducts and intestines and causes chronic diarrhea.
  • Cytomegalovirus – This condition is caused by the herpes virus present in most adults. A compromised immune system is unable to suppress the virus as it would in healthy individuals. This results in damage to the digestive system, eyes, lungs and other organs.
  • Toxoplasmosis – Prevalent in those with CD4 counts of under 200, toxoplasmosis is caused by the Toxoplasma gondii parasite found primarily in cat feces. This infection which is often asymptomatic in adults can be deadly for those with HIV. Severe toxoplasmosis can result in severe damage to the brain or eyes.
  • Tuberculosis – Though uncommon in the United States, tuberculosis is the most common infection associated with HIV in less developed nations.

All sexually active individuals should be tested for HIV at least once.