What Happens When HIV/AIDS Is Left Untreated?

By Chris Sherwood

Introduction

According to the Centers for Disease Control, approximately 56,300 people in the United States were infected with the HIV/AIDS virus in 2006 (the most recent year for which data are available). Of those infected, an estimated 14,500 will die each year from the disease. Although there is no cure for HIV/AIDS, there are treatment options available to help slow the progression of the disease, as well as treat the symptoms that occur with an infection. Unfortunately, many people are unable to afford these treatments or are not tested and diagnosed in time to treat the disease.

Progression

One of the main consequences of leaving HIV/AIDS untreated is the rate in which the disease will progress from HIV to AIDS. It is possible to live for many years, even decades, with HIV without it progressing to AIDS by using specially developed medication. However, leaving the virus untreated gives it free reign to do more damage at an increased rate.

Blindness

Cytomegalovirus is one of the most common diseases that occur once HIV has progressed to AIDS. Retrovirals used to treat HIV/AIDS often help prevent a cytomegalovirus infection. Unfortunately, without treatment, this virus can attack the retina, causing retinitis. Eventually, retinitis can cause complete blindness.

Tuberculosis

Tuberculosis (TB) can also occur if HIV/AIDS is left untreated. TB is a bacterial infection that can cause serious damage to the lungs and can even cause death. Tuberculosis can also leave an HIV/AIDS patient susceptible to meningitis.

Encephalitis

Encephalitis, otherwise known as a brain infection, can also occur in patients who are not treating their HIV/AIDS infection. Most commonly caused by a parasite called toxoplasma gondii in AIDS patients, encephalitis can cause coma and eventually lead to death if not treated.

Other infections

Not treating HIV/AIDS can lead to a host of other opportunistic infections. These include. but are not limited to. malaria, herpes, mycobacterium avium complex, thrush and pneumocystis pneumonia. HIV/AIDS treatment does not guarantee that a patient will not eventually become infected with one or more of these infections. However, treatment usually dramatically increases the chances of a patient's survival and recovery from such infections.

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