Stopping the Spread of HIV in Older Adults

picture showing HIV red ribbon. Stopping the spread of HIV in older adults.

Stopping the Spread of HIV in Older Adults

HIV stands for Human Immunodeficiency Virus. It is the virus that causes AIDS.

The virus may enter the body through any way body fluids may be exchanged with an infected person. These include sharing needles, mother-to-child transmission, or through sexual intercourse with an HIV-infected patient.


  • HIV is a virus that targets the immune system, overtime, the immune system is compromised, and this is called immunodeficiency.
  • The immune system is responsible for protecting the body from infections and it has cells called the helper T cells that identify and help fight off harmful agents such as viruses.
  • Upon infection with HIV, the number of helper T cells decreases leading to a weakened immune system as a result, individuals with HIV are more prone to developing other forms of infection.

Pathology of HIV

HIV targets CD4+ cells. CD4 cells are cells that have CD4 on their membrane such as T helper cells, Dendritic cells, and macrophages all have CD4 molecules, so they can be targeted by the HIV virus.

HIV attaches to the CD4 molecule through a protein called gp120, HIV then uses the gp120 to attach to another receptor called co-receptor. HIV then uses the CD4 molecules and the co-receptor to bind inside the cell.

The common co-receptors that HIV uses are CXCR4 co-receptors found on the T cells and the CCRS co-receptors found on macrophages, dendritic cells, T cells, and monocytes.

Some people with homozygous genetic mutations on their CCR5 receptors have resistance or immunity to HIV. For those without mutations, once HIV binds to the CD4 with either the CCRS receptors or CXCR4 receptors, it gets access into the cell of the host.

When the immune cell becomes activated, it starts transcribing and translating proteins needed for immune response i.e., whenever the immune system wants to transcribe and translate an infection, it ends up transcribing and translating new HIV viruses which invade the cell membrane and infect more cells.

Types of HIV

There are basically two (2) distinctive types of HIV, and they are HIV 1 and HIV 2.

HIV 1 is more associated with AIDS all over the world and it is the commonest type of HIV in the world.

HIV 2 is rarer and more restricted to some parts of the world such as Africa and southern Asia.

Stages and symptoms of HIV

Stages and symptoms of HIV can be categorically characterized into three (3) stages, namely:

Stage 1: Acute stage of HIV infection

About 1 to 4 weeks after infection with HIV, more than 50% of people will have a flu-like illness. At this stage, the body naturally responds to HIV infection.

Some of the flu-like symptoms can include:

  • Muscle aches
  • Vomiting
  • Nausea
  • Dry cough
  • Night sweat
  • Fever
  • Headache
  • Malaise
  • Abdominal pains
  • Chills
  • Rash
  • Mouth ulcers
  • Tiredness
  • Sore throat
  • Lack of appetite
  • Swollen lymph nodes

Some people do not experience any symptoms at this early stage of the infection while some experience symptoms that may last for some days or weeks.

Stage 2: Chronic stage of HIV infection

This stage is also called the latent period of HIV infection because, at this stage, the virus multiplies but at a very low rate, some people still won’t have any symptoms at this stage.

Without diagnosis and treatment of the infection, people can stay in this stage for up to 10 – 15 years but if diagnosis and treatment have been done, the viral load tends to reduce at this stage and this, in turn, reduces the person’s chances of transmitting the virus to others vice versa.

Stage 3: Acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS)

If an HIV patient fails to be on treatment, the Virus will weaken the immune system and once the patient is immunocompromised, the HIV infection will lead to AIDS, and this is the final stage of the infection. A patient is diagnosed to have AIDS when the CD4 count falls below 200, without treatment, people survive 2-3 years and are prone to many infections.

Symptoms of AIDS can be:

  • Sores are seen in the mouth and tongue, genitals, or anus
  • Neurological disorders
  • Recurring fever and profuse night sweats
  • Depression and anxiety
  • Prolonged swelling of the neck, lymph nodes in the armpits, or groin
  • Rash all over the body
  • Pneumonia
  • Long-lasting diarrhoea
  • Rapid weight loss
  • Intense and unexplained tiredness

Mode of transmission of HIV in older adults

  • Sexual route
  • Intravenous route
  • Mother to child transmission
  • Unscreened blood transfusions
  • Sharing of needles and syringes with an infected patient

Diagnosis of HIV infection in older adults

The following are the ways by which HIV infection can be diagnosed:

  1. Antibody test
  2. Antibody – Antigen test
  3. RNA – DNA test

Antibody test: The antibody test, helps to detect the antibodies that make up the HIV infection.

Antibody – Antigen test: The Antibody – Antigen test detects the antibodies that make up the HIV infection and the HIV virus itself.

RNA – DNA test: The RNA test helps to detect the viral RNA while the DNA test makes copies of the viral RNA.

Among the three types of tests listed above, the recommended test is the antibody-antigen test. If an antibody-antigen test is carried out on an individual and the result shows negative, it should be followed by a confirmatory second test which should be an antibody test or RNA – DNA test.

Treatment of HIV in older adults

There is presently no cure for HIV, but treatment can:

  • Help live longer and healthier life
  • Reduce the risk of transmission

The primary method of treatment is the use of antiretroviral therapy (ART). Daily use of antiretroviral therapy slows HIV replication, reduces viral load, and helps the immune system to recover and fight other infections.

Ways to stop HIV infection from spreading among older adults

  • Taking antiretroviral drugs daily will help the virus to become undetectable
  • Using condoms for sex
  • Don’t share needles or syringes

Read also: How to Detect Prostate Cancer In Older Adults

Frequently asked questions

How do people get HIV?

HIV is transmitted through the exchange of bodily fluids with an infected person: blood, semen, pre-seminal fluid, vaginal fluid, rectal fluid, and breast milk

Who is at a higher risk of contracting the virus?

Those who work in places where more than one person may be exposed to a sharp object. Places such as hospitals, hair salons.

Can HIV be transmitted through kissing?

HIV cannot be transmitted through closed-mouth or “social” kissing with someone who has HIV.

Final thoughts

HIV virus is a deadly virus that can lead to AIDS if left untreated. Early diagnosis and treatment of the infection will help reduce the risks of the infection and prolong the life of the patient.

Periodically, HIV tests should be taken as early detection could prolong life.

An HIV-positive result is not a death sentence. People go ahead to live long fulfilled lives with early detection and appropriate management.

Hugging an infected person will not cause an infection. Show love to people living with HIV and AIDS.

Featured image from by Anna Shvets.

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