Actor Charlie Sheen’s announcement about his HIV positive status may have evoked mixed reactions for its delay, but for many, the line that separates a person living with HIV and one with full blown AIDS is still blurred.
HIV positive status means a person has the Human Immunodeficiency Virus in his/her bloodstream but the person’s immunity has not been compromised enough to make him/her a full blown case. However, the person is capable of transmitting the virus either through sexual contact, transfer of blood and blood products and sharing needles.
Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome (AIDS) is said to have occurred when the person becomes a victim of opportunistic infections like TB and diarrhoea, cold infections etc., and it becomes almost a daily occurrence. It is in a sense the last stage of the disease.
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The extent to which the immune system is compromised is measured by what is called CD4 count. CD4 cells, also known as T-helper cells are a kind of white blood cell that is a crucial part of the immune system of the body. They move through the blood stream identifying and destroying invading pathogens. Normally, every cubic mm of blood contains anything between 800-1300 CD4 cells, a higher count signifying better immunity.
Based on a person’s CD4 count a cocktail of anti-virals called anti-retroviral treatment (ART) is started on people like Sheen who are living with HIV. Recent developments in medicine have been such that it is now possible for a person who is HIV+ to stave off the disease for a very long time — or even for life by following a strict regimen and disciplined lifestyle.
It is for this reason that India has recently decided to make people living with HIV who have a CD4 count of 500 eligible for ART. Earlier the norm was 300.