As you may recall, a virus is a microscopic parasite that attacks and infects various tissues of our body. It gets its nourishment from our tissues and multiplies countless times causing a variety of ailments.
There are many viruses that infect humans, Some cause only mild illness, for example, those which are responsible for causing cold. There are other viruses, which are deadly; the Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) is one of the deadly ones.
Our blood contains T cells which are white cells, which protect our body from infections. HIV invades the T cells, impairing the normal function of the T cells, which is to protect the body from other microorganisms present in the body. Persons, who have a healthy immune system, are thus protected from invaders by the T cells.
HIV positive are those who are infected by HIV virus. If not treated effectively in the early stages, HIV infection ultimately progresses to an Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS), which is incurable and fatal.
Transmission of HIV Infection
So far there is no cure for HIV infections, but it can be prevented. It can affect anyone of any age and sex, who is exposed to it. It is not transmitted through casual contact such as shaking hands. It is transmitted through body fluids such as
- Sexual contact
- By transfusion of contaminated blood
- By the use of contaminated needles during ear piercing, tattooing, acupuncture, or injection of illegal drugs.
- By infected mothers to their fetuses on pregnancy or to their infants during breast feeding
Advancement from HIV to AIDS:
- This occurs in three stages. Soon after exposure to HIV, the body produces antibodies in an attempt to destroy the virus. Some persons may have symptoms like mild flu others may have no symptoms for a few months to every ten years. At this stage, the person will know that he/she is HIV positive only if tested
Nutrition in Immune Dysfunction, AIDS and Allergy
In the first dormant stage, the virus which is incubating, multiplies in various parts e.g tonsils, adenoid glands and spleen and destroys the T cells. If a person suspects that he/she is exposed to HIV, early detection helps to start treatment, which can prolong life, as the treatment may delay the action of the virus. Good nutrition at this stage helps to increase body’s ability to delay action of the virus.In the second stage, infected persons, who are undetected and therefore not treated, suffer from damage to their immune system. Infections occur, which may result in a variety of symptoms such as fatigue, headache, oral infections, cough, sore throat, fevers, shortness, the body succumbs.
Nutrition in HIV Infection
A healthful, nutritious diet ensures a healthy immune system, which may delay the progression of HIV infection to AIDS.
When a person is diagnosed as HIV positive, it is important to assess the nutritional status of the person. At this early stage, any unhealthy dietary habits can be corrected with a dietitian’s guidance and the importance of meeting future nutritional needs emphasised to help the action of the body to resist the action of the virus.
As the condition progresses, patient may begin to suffer some of the problems listed above. The metabolic rate, nutrient and energy needs increase due to infections, while the appetite and ability to absorb nutrients may decrease. Medicines given may cause nausea and reduce the appetite. Taste may change, swallowing may be painful due to oral infection. These difficulties may result in the malnutrition, such as protein-energy malnutrition and hence loss of weight.
To improve the appetite of the patient, there are several things the dietitian can do, such as
- Offer soft food.
- Serve frequent small meals.
- Offer food the patient tolerates.
- Add sugar and flavourings to improve acceptability of liquid supplements.
- Avoid extremely hot or cold foods, spicy or acidic foods.
- Give medicines after meals.
- Talk to the patient to help him/her unburden worries about family, friends and finances.