Features Health

Opportunistic infections…

THE Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) is a virus that is passed from person to person through exchange of bodily fluids. When a person is infected with the HIV virus, the body’s immune system begins to weaken and eventually, it becomes unable to protect the body from even the simplest bacteria, fungus or virus, this state is called acquired immunodeficiency syndrome or AIDS.
When HIV enters the human body, it begins to make copies of itself inside the host body cells, it uses the building blocks of the host body and so the body’s defence system does not recognise the virus as an invading force.
There are certain groups of germs that take advantage of this lowered state of immunity and begin to multiply unchecked in the body, causing illness and if not treated correctly, may lead to death. These illnesses are called opportunistic infections as they take advantage of the fact that the body cannot defend itself against the germs.
The human body has germs naturally living on skin and in various cavities, sometimes these germs that occur naturally in the human body begin to reproduce and colonise an area of the body that it should.
The most common form of opportunistic infection is Candidiasis, a fungus that is found in the mouth, oropharynx and genital tract. This fungus grows and populates the areas where it is found naturally and in some cases, migrates to other parts of the body. The Herpes Simplex Virus may be reactivated when the immune system is very compromised, leading to painful blisters around the mouth and genital region. If the immune system is extremely damaged, this virus may cause pneumonia.
The Cytomegalovirus is often associated with damage to the eyes and the heart of people infected with the HIV virus, it is also known to cause pneumonia and swelling of the brain. Cryptococus neoformans fungus invades the human body and causes lung disease and potentially fatal meningitis.
Recurrent salmonella infections may weaken the body’s immune system even more. Tuberculosis may be found not only in the lungs but in any part of the body due to the inability of the body’s immune system to contain the bacteria in the lungs.
How can opportunistic infections be prevented. The best way to prevent getting opportunistic infections is by knowing your HIV status. If you know your status early enough, you will be able to make the changes in your life necessary to stay healthy. If you are HIV positive and your health care provider recommends that you take antiretroviral drugs, it is in your best interest to start taking them in order to help boost your body’s immune system.
Ensure that you are hygienic when preparing and eating food; always wash raw fruits and vegetables before eating them. Avoid eating under-cooked foods as these may be entry points for bacteria, fungus and virus. Make sure you only drink treated water. Consistent, correct use of condoms will help to prevent both transmission of the HIV virus and reinfections with other “strains” of the virus.
For more information on opportunistic infections, email: 990health@champ.org.zm

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