Nutrition and HIV are linked. Any immune impairment as a result of HIV/AIDS can contribute to malnutrition. Malnutrition leads to immune impairment, worsens the effects of HIV, and contributes to a more rapid progression of the disease. Thus, malnutrition both contributes and is a result of HIV disease progression.
A person who is malnourished and then acquires HIV is more likely to progress faster to AIDS because the body is already weak and cannot fight co-infections, particularly without access to ARVs and prophylactic medications. A well nourished person has a stronger immune system for coping with HIV and fighting illness. Figure 14.1 illustrates the relationship between good nutrition and resistance to infection in the context of HIV/AIDS.
Timely improvement of nutritional status can help strengthen the immune system, thereby reducing the incidence of infections, preventing loss of weight and lean body mass, and delaying disease progression.
Figure 10: The Cycle of Good Nutrition and Resistance to Infection in Context of HIV/AIDS
The following symptoms and illnesses commonly caused by HIV infection can lead to malnutrition.
• Anorexia: Anorexia as a loss of appetite may occur as a side effect of medications. It leads to general weight loss and is common when individuals are depressed.
• Diarrhoea: There are several causes of diarrhoea including bacterial and viral infections, parasites, and as a side effect of some medical treatments. Diarrhea also reduces appetite and leads to poor nutrient absorption. Severe malnutrition can occur following a prolonged period of diarrhoea.
• Fever: Fever is common in PLWHA and does not necessarily indicate serious illness. The reasons for fever vary, and it is often hard to determine whether fever is due to HIV or another illness, such as malaria or untreated opportunistic infections. The body’s energy expenditure increases with fever, causing increased energy requirements.
• Nausea and Frequent Vomiting: These can result from the drugs used to treat HIV/AIDS or from opportunistic infections.
• Thrush: Thrush is common in HIV infected people. These can result in difficulty eating foods, loss of appetite, reduced food intake and malabsorption, leading to weight loss.
• Anemia- This can result from poor food intake or caused by HIV itself