Without treatment, the life expectancy for someone with HIV can vary widely. The course of the disease can be affected by a number of factors, including the individual’s overall health, their access to healthcare, and how quickly they begin treatment.
In the early stages of HIV, many people may not experience any symptoms, and the virus may not cause much damage to their immune system. However, without treatment, the virus will continue to multiply and eventually lead to acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS), the final stage of HIV infection.
As the disease progresses, the immune system becomes increasingly weaker, making the person more susceptible to infections, cancers and other illnesses. A person with AIDS may develop serious infections like pneumonia, tuberculosis, and meningitis, which can be life-threatening. They may also develop certain types of cancer, such as Kaposi’s sarcoma, lymphoma, and cervical cancer, which are more common in people with AIDS.
The onset of AIDS is the most critical point in the natural progression of the HIV. This is when the immune system is severely damaged by the HIV infection and person would become highly susceptible to life-threatening opportunistic infections such as candidiasis, toxoplasmosis, and PCP. Once a person reaches this stage, the average survival time is only about 1-2 years without treatment.
It’s important to note that death from HIV is not inevitable and the situation has significantly improved since the introduction of anti-retroviral therapy(ART) in 1996. With ART, the virus can be effectively suppressed and the progression of the disease can be slowed down or even stopped. This can help people with HIV live much longer, healthier lives. ART is not a cure for HIV, but it can help people with the virus maintain a near-normal life expectancy, if diagnosed early and able to access treatment.
In summary, without treatment, the course of HIV can vary widely, but typically leads to AIDS, which can be fatal within 1-2 years. However, with proper medical care and access to antiretroviral therapy, people living with HIV can live long, healthy lives. It’s crucial that people at risk of HIV get tested, diagnosed early and have access to ART in order to prevent illness, disability and death.