AIDS stands for: Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome
AIDS is a medical condition. A person is diagnosed with AIDS when their immune system is too weak to fight off infections.
Since AIDS was first identified in the early 1980s, an unprecedented number of people have been affected by the global AIDS epidemic. Today, there are an estimated 34 million people living with HIV and AIDS worldwide.
What causes AIDS?
AIDS is caused by HIV.
HIV is a virus that gradually attacks immune system cells. As HIV progressively damages these cells, the body becomes more vulnerable to infections, which it will have difficulty in fighting off. It is at the point of very advanced HIV infection that a person is said to have AIDS. If left untreated, it can take around ten years before HIV has damaged the immune system enough for AIDS to develop.
What are the symptoms of AIDS?
A person is diagnosed with AIDS when they have developed an AIDS related condition or symptom, called an opportunistic infection, or an AIDS related cancer. The infections are called ‘opportunistic’ because they take advantage of the opportunity offered by a weakened immune system.
It is possible for someone to be diagnosed with AIDS even if they have not developed an opportunistic infection. AIDS can be diagnosed when the number of immune system cells (CD4 cells) in the blood of an HIV positive person drops below a certain level.
Is there a cure for AIDS?
Worryingly, many people think there is a 'cure' for AIDS-which makes them feel safer, and perhaps take risks that they otherwise wouldn't. However, there is still no cure for AIDS. The only way to stay safe is to be aware of how HIV is transmitted and how to prevent HIV infection.
What Is HIV?
HIV stands for Human Immunodeficiency Virus. HIV is the virus that causes AIDS. Your immune system is your body's defences system. While many viruses can be controlled by the immune system, HIV targets and infects the same immune system cells that are supposed to protect us from illnesses. These cells are a type of white blood cell called CD4 cells (sometimes called T-cells). HIV takes over CD4 cells and turns them into factories that produce thousands of copies of the virus. As the virus makes copies, it damages or kills the CD4 cells, weakening the immune system.
HIV lives in blood and other body fluids that contain blood or white blood cells. People have gotten HIV through:
Unprotected sexual intercourse with an HIV-infected person. This includes vaginal or anal intercourse, and oral sex on a man or woman without a condom or other barrier. Intercourse while a woman is having her period, or during outbreaks of genital sores or lesions (caused by herpes and other sexually transmitted diseases) can increase the risk of HIV transmission.
Sharing drug injection equipment (needles and/or works); or being accidentally stuck by needles or sharp objects contaminated with infected blood.
Infected blood used in transfusions, and infected blood products used in the treatment of certain diseases and disorders. Before March, 1985 pregnancy, childbirth, and/or breastfeeding, where the virus is passed from mother to child.
Transplanted organs from infected donors. (Routine screening of organ donors also began in 1985.)
Is there a cure for HIV?
At this time, there is no cure for HIV. But there are things you can do.
Because this is the current reality, it is important that people who are not infected with HIV stay negative and that those living with HIV/AIDS stay healthy.
For people infected with HIV, drug development has helped to change the face of the disease. Whereas HIV infection used to mean certain death, drug therapy has helped to prolong and improve the quality of life for many individuals.
HIV is a retrovirus, so drugs that target the virus are called antiretroviral (ARV) drugs. There are many types of ARVs, but they all work by slowing the growth or inhibiting the replication of