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HIV infection and AIDS: One more look

The Department of Health data shows there were 1,098 new HIV cases diagnosed in May 2017. This is 48 percent higher compared to 741 new cases in May 2016 and the highest recorded cases since 1984. Of these 1,098 new cases 958 or 87 percent did not have signs or symptoms of the disease (asymptomatic) while 140 cases had full-blown acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS). There were 15 reported deaths.

Of the reported new cases, 1, 041 were males and 57 were females. Three persons were less than 15 years old, 325 belonged to the 15 to 24 year-old group; 554 to the 25-34 year-old group; 185 to the 35 to 49 year-old group, and 31 persons were more than 50 years old. There were eight pregnant women living with HIV infection.

Of the 1,098 new cases 683 were started on anti-retroviral therapy.

AIDS is the presence of HIV infection itself, opportunistic infections, and cancers.

Opportunistic infections are caused by organisms that ordinarily would not cause illness in a person with intact or normal immune defense system. These are fungi/yeast, bacteria, viruses, or parasites. Fungal infection (caused by candida species) may occur in the mouth as oral thrush. Some HIV-infected females may initially have frequent vaginal yeast infections that are difficult to treat. The fungus pneumocystis carinii is a very common cause of pneumonia in AIDS. This serious lung infection can be fatal.

Toxoplasmosis, an infection caused by parasite, can be a mild disease in persons with normal immune system. In AIDS, toxoplasmosis can spread throughout the body and can cause brain inflammation and swelling, headaches, convulsions, and coma.

Tuberculosis – an infection caused by airborne bacteria called mycobacterium tuberculosis is very common and can be more deadly in people with AIDS. It can be more difficult to treat if the mycobacterial strain is resistant to anti-TB drugs. In the same group of bacteria, mycobacterium avitum is a common cause of diarrhea, loss of weight, and fever in advanced AIDS. Cryptosporidium, a parasite acquired from contaminated food or water, commonly causes the same problems.

JC virus, a virus normally kept under control by normal immune system, is harmless and causes disease only when there is severely weakened immune system. Infection causes progressive multifocal leukoencephalopathy that leads to weakness of arms and legs and loss of balance. Within days or weeks, the person cannot stand or walk and death may occur in a few months.

Cytomegalovirus infection can cause blindness in advanced AIDS. The virus infects the retina.

Tumors of the immune system (lymphomas) are common in AIDS and these usually initially form in the brain or internal organs. Cervical cancers are common in females and homosexual males have a high tendency to develop rectal cancer.

Kaposi’s Sarcoma, a cancer that originates in blood vessels, affects persons with AIDS. It can appear as raised pinkish, reddish or purplish round or oval patches on the skin. Lesions are painless and may appear initially on the face. After several months, the lesions may develop in the mouth and internal organs where they can cause internal bleeding. These lesions recede with improvement of the patient’s immune system.

HIV infection can also lead to the development of renal disease. HIV nephropathy is caused by the virus itself and in severe forms, the glomeruli – the parts of the kidneys that act as filters to clean body wastes – collapse and become deformed. Kidney failure can ensue.

The main treatment for HIV infection is the use of antiretroviral drugs. These drugs however do not cure HIV but can reduce the number of virus in the body. More than 20 drugs are currently approved for treatment.

Early diagnosis may prevent further spread of HIV infection and in infected persons it can prevent the development of full-blown AIDS and its complications.

HIV infection/AIDS is one of the communicable diseases that the current administration aims to control.

Senate Bill 376 or the Philippine HIV and AIDS Policy Bill aims to create a more comprehensive and national multisectoral strategy to address the increase in the number of HIV/AIDS cases in the country. The DOH has intensified its information campaign on the disease.

Baguio General Hospital and Medical Center is the DOH-designated treatment hub/satellite in the Cordillera. It can be reached through telephone numbers 442-4216 local 381 or 0915-581-6480.

Further details on the status of HIV infection and AIDS in the Philippines are available on the DOH website.

Medical queries may be emailed to yourmedicalcorner@yahoo.com or baguiomidlandcourier@yahoo.com. Answers will be provided in the next issue of the paper.

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