What follows here, is my last article on “Living with HIV/AIDS” in my Mormon owned local daily paper. They have asked me to do this column for the last year now, and this is my latest. I not only hope you enjoy it, but learn something from it. I know I did, because learning about HIV is almost as important as the medications, when it comes to long term survival.
I trust you will enjoy!
Well, one of the things that I have observed over the last 23.5 years of living HIV+ is the fact that like so many other things in life, the only constant is change.
This month, some studies became public that science and medicine have been working on for some time now. I want this month, to comment on a study that has been published and can be found on the internet here: http://www.i-base.org.uk/htb/v8-1-2/siege.html . I cannot transpose 7 pages to this column because of space restraints, so I will give you a synopsis of what I think this means to those living with the disease, and those who are in the business of taking care of us.
In the past, it was felt that HIV was a fairly tame virus that took years to do its damage in the body and only over a long period of time, would someone succumb to the damage of its onslaught. Well, wouldnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t you know that wasnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t even close to reality. HIV is in fact a very virulent virus that does its main damage early and with great efficiency.
You see, most of the immune cells in your body are dedicated to the digestive tract; in fact up to 70% of the full compliment of immune cells in your body are located in your intestines, where the most bacterial confrontation goes on inside the body.
It seems that within days of infection, HIV causes massive death of the cells that protect the lining of the gut against invasion by foreign invaders. This in turn damages the integrity of the gut lining to such a degree that foreign substances secreted by bacteria that live in the gut, and which are normally walled off safely from the body cavity itself, get into the bloodstream. This causes a chronic inflammation of the system which slowly exhausts the immune systemÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s ability to produce new immune cells. Essentially, while the initial damage is caused by HIV, the spectacular immune degeneration of AIDS is much more to do with the everyday germs that live in our guts. To put it another way; HIV is like a burglar that breaks your windows, and eat all the contents of your home. The long-term damage to your house is caused more by the wind and rain coming in through the un-repaired glass, than the damage to the glass itself. In a finding in the National Institutes of Health 2005 study of this very interesting observation, state that within the first few weeks of infection, between 30 to 80% of the infection-fighting immune cells in the intestine are destroyed, and they never recover.
These findings completely reversed the years of assumptions that HIV was a Ã¢â‚¬Å“SlowÃ¢â‚¬Â infection which caused gradual immune damage. On the contrary, it is a horrifyingly powerful virus that decimates the intestinesÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ defenses within days.
But wait, there is more! What is worst in this very disturbing report is that another researcher in the University of Minnesota has discovered that the early breakdown of the gutÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s immune system causes massive death amongst the cells that actually make up the gut lining. In a process called apoptosis, they die off in large numbers. The breaches in the gut wall lead to a situation in which substances from gut bacteria leak into the bloodstream. The bodies of uninfected people are capable of dealing with the occasional leak from the gut and create enough antibodies to counter these in the bloodstream. In an HIV+ person however, this fight becomes so overwhelming that the body becomes unable to produce enough antibodies to fight this continual onslaught, therefore killing the host in a very long and drawn out fight with common bacteria.
It is assumed that this is one of the reasons why in Africa and other countries, HIV deaths are unfortunately usually caused by wasting.
All of this has yet to be proved and this is still being presented as theory, but it is becoming more and more of a really reasonable possibility due to all the people like me who live daily/monthly/yearly and seemingly forever with digestive issues. I will stay on top of this new discovery and give updates as they become available.