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HIV is a round, ball-shaped virus. It has two single strands of RNA for its genome. The RNA is used to carry the genetic information that is passed on when new HIV particles are produced. This is different to a normal cell which contains DNA.
The outer layer of the HIV particle is the envelope. The envelope takes part of the host cell’s membrane as the virus leaves to make a membrane for itself. The envelope also has some proteins in it that help the virus invade the next host cell. One protein helps the virus attach to the receptor on the host cell. The other protein helps the virus fuse with the cell membrane and enter the cell.
Inside the virus membrane is a protein layer called the matrix made up of matrix protein, which contains essential proteins and the nucleus. One enzyme, protease splits HIV polyproteins during viral replication. The capsid is the outer membrane of the cell’s nucleus.
HIV is a retrovirus, which means it carries single-stranded RNA is its genetic material rather than the double-stranded DNA human cells carry. Retroviruses also have the enzyme reverse transcriptase, which allow it to copy RNA into DNA and use that DNA “copy” to infect human, or host, cells. When HIV infects a cell, it first attaches to and fuses with the host cell. Then the viral RNA is converted into DNA and the virus uses the host cell’s machinery to replicate itself during a process called reverse transcription. The new copies of HIV then leave the host cell and move on to infect other cells.
The virus attaches to the host cells CD4 receptors through the glycoprotein 120, it also interacts with a chemokine coreceptor. It is then internalized via clathrin-dependent endocytosis. The TM glycoprotein 41 controls fusion with the host membrane. Nucleocapsid is released into the cytoplasm, which leads to partial uncoating. The ssRNA genome is copied into a linear dsDNA molecule by the reverse transcriptase. Nuclear entry of the viral dsDNA which is covalently and randomly integrated into the cell’s genome by the integrase. Transcription of provirus by Pol II produces viral spliced and unspliced RNAs. Translation of spliced viral RNAs produces tat, rev, and nef proteins. Rev mediates nuclear export of the uncompletely spliced RNAs. Translation of unspliced viral RNAs produces polyproteins. The virion is assembled at the host cellular membrane. They then burst through the plasma membrane and release of the virions.
The Enzyme-Linked Immunosorbent Assay (ELISA) is a technique used to detect antibodies or infectious agents in a sample. Antibodies are made in response to infection and so an antibody ELISA can indicate whether or not an animal has been in contact with a certain virus. An antigen ELISA can tell whether an animal is infected with a virus by detecting it directly. For an antibody ELISA, antigens are stuck onto a plastic surface, a sample is added and any antibodies for the disease we are testing for will bind to the antigens (Figure 1). Next a second antibody with a marker is added and a positive reaction is detected by the marker changing colour when an appropriate substrate is added (Figure 2). If there are no antibodies in the sample, the second antibody will not be able to stick and there will be no colour change. For an antigen ELISA, antibodies are bound to a plastic surface, a sample is added and if antigens from the virus we are testing for are present they will stick to the antibodies. This test then proceeds in the same way as the antibody ELISA.
The person-to-person spread of HIV is called HIV transmission. HIV is transmitted (spread) only in certain body fluids from a person infected with HIV: blood, semen, pre-seminal fluids, anal fluids, vaginal fluids and Breast milk. HIV transmission is only possible if these fluids come in contact with a mucous membrane or damaged tissue or are directly injected into the bloodstream (from a needle or syringe). Mucous membranes are found inside the rectum, the vagina, the opening of the penis, and the mouth and fluids produced spread HIV when in contact with another person.
Get tested before you have sex.
Have less risky sex. HIV is mainly spread by having sex without a condom or without taking medicines to prevent or treat HIV.
Use a condom correctly every time you have sex.
Limit your number of sexual partners. The more partners you have, the more likely you are to have a partner with HIV whose HIV is not well controlled or to have a partner with a sexually transmitted disease
Don’t inject drugs. But if you do, use only sterile drug injection equipment and water and never share your equipment with others.
Post Exposure Prophylaxis is a medical treatment that can prevent HIV infection after the virus has entered the body. You can be prescribed a course of PEP drugs. You need to start PEP ideally within 24 hours of the exposure occurring and no later than 72 hours. The longer you wait the less chance there is of PEP working.
PrEP or Pre Exposure Prophylaxis is a medical treatment taken before you have sex, to prevent HIV. Clinical trials have shown that taking PrEP is a very reliable way of preventing HIV infection in people who are at high risk of getting HIV. PrEP is not currently available on the NHS, but can be prescribed privately by a doctor for a fee and purchased from specialist pharmacies or online. The drugs used for PrEP are the same as those used for the treatment of people living with HIV.
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