About the Illness
HIV is an abbreviation of the name of a virus called the "Human Immune Virus". This virus enters the body through unprotected sex, blood transfusions or contact with used needles, blades or knives that have been used by or on a person infected with HIV. When the virus is in your body, it attacks your immune system over a long period of time and eventually weakens it to the point where it collapses and is unable to protect the body from infections. It does this by invading the cells in your blood responsible for fighting infections. These are called T-cells. As the HIV reproduces, it kills more and more T-cells, which in turn means immunity is constantly being reduced. You will become more and more at risk from infections and eventually develop AIDS. AIDS is an abbreviation of the name "Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome" which means that an immune system has been slowly weakened by the Human Immune Virus to the point where it is unable to fight infections any more. There is no cure for HIV, but you can help your body stay strong and fight it by taking good care of yourself, eating properly and boosting your immunity with food, herbs or different kinds of medical drugs.
If you do this, you will be able to stay healthy for many years.
You cannot catch HIV from shaking hands, hugging or kissing, eating from the plate of an HIV-infected person, mosquito or other insect bites or latrines.
There are 4 stages of HIV infection:
Stage 1: Infection - Someone becoming infected with HIV may experience a fever or flu-like symptoms about 3-6 weeks after the initial infection. This fever will go away by itself after a short while. In Africa it is often confused with malaria, typhoid or flu.
Stage 2: No Symptoms - For a long time, the HIV-infected person will not show any symptoms at all. An individual can stay without symptoms or any signs of the disease for anything from 2 to 10 years and during this time can unknowingly infect other people. Gradually they will start to experience more flu, colds and diarrhoea than would be expected and then soon move to the next stage of illness.
Stage 3: Early Symptomatic Stage - A person's immunity is now considerably reduced and they experience many more infections on a regular basis. Symptoms at this stage include weight loss, persistent diarrhoea, candida infection (thrush of mouth and genitals), herpes zoster and herpes simplex. Infected people will become more and more bedridden and can end up spending half their time in bed.
Stage 4: Established Infection (AIDS) - Now a person experiences several infections, usually at the same time. These include skin diseases, pneumonia, meningitis, fungal infections, gastritis, TB, warts, hepatitis and continuing diarrhoea.
Children can catch HIV in the same way as adults, but mothers can infect babies during pregnancy and delivery or when breastfeeding. It is possible to take steps to reduce a baby's chances of becoming infected by its mother. For this reason, all pregnant mothers should find out their HIV status so they can take steps to protect their baby from infection and know what decisions to take about appropriate healthcare.
Although there is no cure for HIV, a lot can be done to slow the rate at which HIV reproduces in your body and to help you stay healthy for a long time, keeping full blown AIDS at bay. To do this, you must have an HIV test to confirm your status. If you test HIV+ then continue to monitor your health with the support of healthcare professionals. They will be able to help you make decisions about managing your health and treating any illnesses you experience.
As well as finding professional healthcare, it is also a good idea to join a support group where you can share experiences and fears, and learn about spiritual, physical and mental coping strategies. It is very important not to isolate yourself when you discover you are infected with HIV. You are not alone.
Why Getting Tested Can Save Your Life
If you test positive, then you can take action to change your behaviour and take care of your health.
If you test positive, then you can protect your family and plan for their future. They can also support you in staying healthy.
If you test negative, then you have good motivation to protect yourself from infection by using a condom during sexual intercourse
Food and Nutrition Advice
The goal of these methods is to keep your body as strong as possible for as long as possible before any anti-HIV medicine becomes necessary. They will not only reduce the chance of you becoming ill, but will also help you to recover from illness when you are treated with medicines. These methods include:
- Determination to Live Not much can be done if you feel hopeless and helpless. You need to believe you have a future ahead of you and that you are still in control of your future.
- Good Food You need to get enough food every day, both in quantity and quality. Chapter 3 - Eating Well has more detailed advice on how you can do this. However, if you are HIV+ you will have to make extra effort to ensure that your body gets enough of certain substances. You will particularly need to eat foods rich in selenium, zinc and vitamin A.
- Clean Water This helps keep your stomach healthy and prevents you from developing many of the health problems associated with HIV, including diarrhoea.
- Healthy Stomach You should protect yourself from intestinal worms so your body does not have to fight them as well as the HIV. De-worm every 3 months and make sure you practice good hygiene.
- Stay Warm Your body is able to fight HIV and other germs much better if it is warm inside. You can keep warm by exercising, sunbathing and eating Cayenne pepper or chillis on a regular basis.
- Immune Boosting Plants There are certain plants that can help keep your immune system strong and which you should take regularly. These include garlic, aloe vera, lemons, watermelon seeds and many others.
- Attitude and Coping Methods Stress and anxiety can harm your immune system and make it weaker. You need to find ways of helping you deal with fears, release emotions and reduce anxiety.
- Spiritual Practices Prayer, love and gratitude can help the body stay strong. Forgiveness also helps keep you strong.
Body Work and General Advice
It is possible to take anti-HIV medicines called anti-retrovirals (ARVs) which help stop the virus from reproducing and killing all your immune cells. Your HIV should usually have progressed to Stage 3 or 4 before doctors will consider prescribing these medications. This can be anywhere between 2 and 10 years after becoming infected. By helping fight the HIV in your body, these drugs can result in better health and longer life.
If you start taking ARVs, you will probably need to take them every single day for the rest of your life.
ARVs can only be taken under the supervision of a medical doctor because they are a complicated treatment that needs monitoring on a regular basis. Some people experience side-effects from these medicines and may even want to stop taking them. If you feel sick and want to stop taking ARVs, you must tell your doctor. If you stop taking all the pills without telling the doctor, you are likely to develop drug resistance which means that you will not be able to use any of those medicines again.
ARVs should only be considered if the patient is able to eat a regular daily supply of food (three meals and two snacks a day) and if you feel confident of a supply for the rest of your life. This is because the medicines can only work properly if they are taken before, during or after meals, every single day without missing a single treatment. These medicines are very strong and if they are not taken with food you can become seriously ill. If you are considering taking ARVs, discuss this with your doctor.