Everyone gets sick from time to time, but those who suffer chronic and even fatal diseases may be at a higher risk. HIV has become somewhat of an epidemic, and while treatment of the disease has come a long way, there is still no cure. There are also several complications that arise with being HIV positive, and it’s important for patients to understand those complications, since any ailment can affect health more than the average person.
What is HIV?
Human immunodeficiency virus, abbreviated HIV, is the precursor to AIDS, or acquired immunodeficiency syndrome. In this disease, the virus attacks the T cells in the immune system, which are the cells used to fight off infections. The more cells are destroyed, the harder it is for the body to fight various diseases, including cancer. If left untreated, the problem advances to the point that these infections and diseases take over, and it is determined that the individual has AIDS.
The progression can happen quickly, in just a few years. However, with the antiretroviral therapy that has been developed to control HIV, many people who have it live just as long as those who don’t. At the same time, it’s not curable, and once a person is diagnosed, it doesn’t go away. It is also a sexually transmitted disease, transferable through certain bodily fluids, so it’s important to remember that, even with treatment, the infection can often be contagious.
What are UTIs?
In many ways, a urinary tract infection is much like the common cold. It can happen to anyone, it is irritating, and it can lead to much more serious problems if left untreated. In the case of a UTI, bacteria get into the urinary tract, usually through the opening of the urethra, and spread into the bladder. In severe cases, the bacteria will reach the ureters or the kidneys, causing more serious problems.
HIV and the risk of UTIs
While, as discussed, antiretroviral therapy, or ART, can help control the progression of HIV, the fact is that the immune system remains compromised. What this means is that:
- The immune system has fewer T cells than the average individual, which means that it is not as capable of fighting off infection.
- Bacteria have a richer environment to grow and spread.
- Infections can occur more frequently, putting HIV patients at greater risk for UTIs.
There’s also another issue that arises, putting those with HIV at greater risk for UTIs, which many people feel is controversial to discuss. However, it is a concern to keep in mind. Because of the lifestyle of many – but not all – people who contract HIV, the risk increases. This mostly comes down to sexual practices.
- In most cases, a UTI is caused by E. coli, a bacteria found in fecal matter.
- HIV is found most commonly in homosexual men who do not use condoms, and that practice can also lead to E. coli entering into the urethra.
- In addition, heterosexual men and women, especially those who engage in anal sex, are at greater risk for a UTI.
- Those who have multiple partners are at greater risk for both HIV and a UTI.
Though it may be taboo to talk about sexual preference and practice in terms of risk factors, this has to be acknowledged. Discussing that can help encourage people to take the right precautions to avoid complications later.
Preventing UTIs for HIV patients
- Urinate frequently, at least every four hours, and be sure to empty the bladder completely in the process. Residual urine in the bladder is a breeding ground for bacteria.
- Don’t resist the urge to pee. This could cause swelling, which will make it hard to empty the bladder later.
- Use a condom during sex to help protect against STIs and UTIs, and be sure to clean the genital area both before and after sex.
- Urinate immediately after sex to help rinse out any bacteria that has entered the urethra.
- Take showers instead of baths, since baths are swimming in bacteria that has been washed from the body, while showers take the bacteria straight down the drain.
- Take all medications on schedule to remain healthy and keep the immune system functioning as well as possible.
- Avoid the use of catheters, since they irritate and cause inflammation, which can lead to a UTI.
- Wipe from front to back to avoid spreading E. coli to the urethra.
- Maintain good hygiene, as the body is prone to picking up bacteria everywhere you go.
- Speak to a physician about taking probiotics, which help keep good bacteria in the body balanced.
- When a UTI occurs, see a doctor immediately, and take all antibiotics as prescribed to assure that all the bacteria is killed, avoiding recurrent or chronic UTIs.