Perhaps you saw the excellent global status report on HIV-AIDS in The Chief last month by Sea-to-Sky medical health officer, Dr. Paul Martiquet. The statistic that stood out for me, as a health practitioner, was the estimate by Health Canada that up to a third of HIV-infected Canadians don’t even know they are carrying the virus.
This is a dangerous situation. Because of their particular sexual activities or intravenous drug use, some individuals have good reason to wonder if they have contracted the HIV virus, and they have a clear obligation to have themselves tested for it. (It is a criminal offense in Canada to knowingly infect another person with HIV, and a number of offenders have been jailed for doing so.)
But what of those HIV carriers who have no reason to suspect that they are infected? The virus can be transmitted through almost any bodily fluid – blood, semen, vaginal secretions, breast milk, saliva or discharge from wounds. While Canadians now rarely contract HIV through blood transfusions, wounds or organ transplants, it does happen, and the symptoms can be hard to detect.
Individuals react very differently to HIV. Some may become quite ill, even in the short term. But usually the symptoms, at least for the first month, are relatively mild, closely mimicking a common ‘flu’. They may include fever, sore throat, fatigue, aching joints, rash and swollen lymph glands. Later, as the illness persists beyond the normal term of a ‘flu’, the disease can easily be mistaken for mononucleosis.
In the longer term, however, as HIV progresses over a highly-variable period of years into full-blown AIDS, its symptoms become unmistakable. The disease gradually disables the immune system, turning the body into a breeding factory for any of a long list of opportunistic illnesses, many of them fatal.
Although HIV/AIDS is incurable, its effects can now be slowed by drugs, prolonging the lives of patients by years. But the side-effects of these drugs are debilitating in their own right, making it critically important for the AIDS patient to take counteractive measures.
Chief among these is stepping up the intake of protein, which is the basis of antibody production in the body. It’s the immune system that is under assault and antibodies are its first and last line of defense.
Dietary supplements are also vital. HIV has the effect of stripping vitamins, minerals, carbohydrates and good fats from the body, and it is essential that they be replaced if patients are to have their best shot at holding off the disease.
Finally, HIV/AIDS appears to be one of these conditions that can be strongly influenced by the mental attitude of the patient. Some people live for decades with the disease, while others succumb in a few years, with no apparent physiological difference between them. Which suggests that mind-body regimes such as tai qi, qi gong, yoga and meditation may have real potential here.
©Dr. Gordon, 2007.