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How does HIV progress?

Understand the four lifecycle stages of HIV infection and how it can progress to AIDS.

How does HIV progress?

Disease progression after infection

Disease progression from infection to AIDS follows a set pattern in most infected individuals, although the rate of disease progression varies from one person to the other.

  • Rapid progressors take 3–6 years.
  • Average progressors take 8 years.
  • Slow progressors take 15 years.
  • There is a small group of people who are classified as non-progressors. The slow progression of these individuals is thought to be as a result of genetically inherited factors.

HIV attacks cells in the immune system (which have a certain type of receptor called CD4+). When an individual is first infected, the initial stage of the disease is characterised by the rapid spread of the virus throughout the body. There is also an intensive phase of viral replication resulting in high quantities of the virus being present, and a corresponding decrease in CD4+ count.

As the body’s immune responses begin to take effect and antibodies are produced, the number of virus declines and the immune system recovers. The period between infection and the production of antibodies is known as the window period (it is during this interval of time that an infected person may test negative for HIV). It is also the reason why people who test negative should repeat the test after three months in case they have been recently infected.

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The control of HIV by the immune system then continues over a period known as the ‘clinical latency’. During this time viral replication is contained, although there is a steady weakening of the immune system, indicated by a decrease in the CD4+ count by anywhere between 40–80 cells per year.

The rate of disease progression to AIDS is dependent on a variety of factors, one of which is the viral ‘set point’. This is the level of HIV in the blood established after initial infection. A person with a low viral set point (in other words a small amount of HIV in the blood) is less likely to develop the advanced disease at a rapid rate. A person with a high viral set point (in other words a high level of virus in the blood) is likely to show more rapid disease progression. Other factors that may influence the person’s progression to the advanced stages of HIV may include nutrition, stress levels, and other lifestyle issues.

Once the CD4+ count falls below 350, there is an increased likelihood that certain of the opportunistic infections associated with advanced disease will manifest, and the types and numbers of infections may increase as the patient’s CD4+ count drops.

It is on this basis that the indicator for starting treatment has been established in many countries as a CD4+ count of 350 or less, or when certain opportunistic infections become evident—whichever is the earlier.

Once treatment is started then the whole process can be reversed and there is normally an increase in CD4+ count and a corresponding decrease in viral load.

We all have questions.

Below are some of the answers to the most common questions that you need to know.

What is usually the first sign of HIV?

After getting infected with HIV, most patients only experience moderate flu-like symptoms. Typically, the illness is sudden in onset and is characterised by fever, swelling of the lymph glands, a measles-like rash all over the body and ulcers in the mouth and sometimes on the genitalia.

What are the 4 stages of HIV?
  • Stage 1: Infection – Exposure to infected bodily fluids.
  • Stage 2: Asymptomatic – HIV quickly spreads and the patient becomes seropositive for HIV antibodies.
  • Stage 3: Symptomatic – The immune system is now engaged in a constant battle with the rapidly replicating virus.
  • Stage 4: AIDS – At this stage, the patient’s CD4+ count is 200 cells per mm3 or less.
How soon can HIV be detected by a blood test?

No test can detect HIV immediately after infection. The time between initial infection and a detectable viral load is called the window period. It can take anywhere from 2-12 weeks to after exposure detect whether you are HIV-positive or not, depending on which testing method is used.

How long does it take to show symptoms of HIV?

Following initial infection, there is a period of intense, unchecked viral replication that occurs. It usually takes two to four weeks after infection and can last about one to two weeks, after which there tends to be a slight recovery, and the infected individual is considered to be seropositive for HIV antibodies.

How is HIV transmitted?

HIV is transmitted from one person to another through the exchange of body fluids. The main method of transmission in South Africa is through unprotected sexual activity.

Does HIV test affect life insurance?

Being HIV-positive can affect standard life insurance policies, particularly if your status changes from HIV-negative to HIV-positive within a particular age range. That’s why AllLife covers all lives. Your HIV status doesn’t prevent you from getting cover with us.

Can HIV-positive women have children?

Yes, HIV-positive women can enjoy healthy pregnancies and give birth to healthy HIV-negative babies. Through the Prevention of Mother to Child Transmission (PMTCT) programme has been highly effective in reducing transmission risk to under 1%.

Up to R10 million Life Cover for people living with HIV.

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What will I be covered for?

In a few simple steps, you could be covered for comprehensive Life Cover and HIV Disability Cover (optional). We believe in providing you with Life Insurance to suit your needs so we will find a solution for you.

You get more than a life policy, you get a team to help you stay healthy.

What happens after I‘m covered?

After you’re covered you can enjoy the benefit of our Health Control Programme where we remind and assist you when it comes to regular tests and checkups, ensuring that you live a healthy and happy life.

Remember, life cover gets more expensive as you get older, so your premium will never be lower than it is today.

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*Risk Profile Dependent, Premiums increase by 6% every year and can be reviewed given 30 days' notice.