Acquired immunodeficiency is a complete or partial failure of the immune system after birth.
The term immunodeficiency implies inability of the immune system to fight off infections and defend the organism in an effective way. If there is deficiency of the immune system, the organism has more frequent infections, which cause a serious damage of the patient’s health. Infections, such as herpes zoster, that could not harm a healthy person could be life threatening for a person who suffers from immunodeficiency.
Although immunodeficiency can be present at birth, being congenital, it develops more often later, in which case it is called acquired immunodeficiency.
Mild type of acquired immunodeficiency may occur with infectious diseases, like flu or long-term diseases, including diabetes and rheumatoid arthritis
Severe types are associated with AIDS or cancer.
HIV is a sexually transmitted infection. However, it can also be spread by contact with infected blood or during pregnancy, from the mother to the child, childbirth or during breast-feeding. HIV infection takes years to weaken the immune system and develop into AIDS.
The symptoms of acquired deficiency depend on the cause and severity. These include:
- recurrent infections
- muscle pains, joint pains
- skin rash
- swelling of lymph nodes
- mouth ulcers
- weight loss
The cause of acquired immunodeficiency could be:
- HIV infection
- Rheumatoid arthritis
- Long-term use of corticosteroids
- Immunosuppressive drugs
- Cancer treatment, like chemotherapy
- After surgery of the spleen
- Lack of immunoglobulin A
In HIV infection the virus attacks special types of white blood cells, CD4, which further causes progressive immunodeficiency and complications.
The risk factors of acquired immunodeficiency are:
- unprotected sex, another sexually transmitted infection, sharing needles – all related to AIDS
- other conditions
- long-term use of certain medications
The complications of acquired immunodeficiency are:
- cytomegalovirus – a herpes virus that spreads through saliva, blood, urine, semen or breast milk
- candidiasis – on the mouth, tongue, esophagus or vagina
- salmonella infection
- cryptococcal meningitis – inflammation of the brain and spinal cord membranes
- toxoplasmosis – deadly parasitic infection from cats
- Kaposi’s sarcoma – common cancer in HIV-infected people
- Lymphoma – cancer of the lymph glands
- Neurological complications
- Kidney disease
Prevention of acquired immunodeficiency is possible if one starts leading a healthy lifestyle in order to minimize the possibility of developing life-long conditions that could lead to weakened immune system.
In case of AIDS, the best prevention is to conduct safe sex (using condoms and new condoms every time), not use drugs and share needles, be aware of the sexual health of the partner. There’s evidence that circumcision reduces the risk of acquiring HIV.
If already HIV-infected, you should tell the partner that you have HIV; tell your doctor that you have HIV if you are pregnant.