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Acquired immune deficiency syndrome

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HIV virus that turns into AIDS.

Acquired immune deficiency syndrome is a viral disease commonly called AIDS. The syndrome is caused by the HIV virus, which attacks the immune system making the body more susceptible to get the common cold and any other form of sickness. If the body catches a bad cold or virus, the body cannot fight it off. This can and most likely will eventually lead to an early death. It is commonly spread through fluids of the body. Common symptoms of are like chills, fevers, rashes, sweats at night, swollen lymph glands, weakness, or weight loss. There are more symptoms that might tell a person if they have progressed to AIDS. There is no treatment so far to HIV or AIDS, although, there is a treatment called antiretroviral therapy, or ART, to help reduce symptoms and the destruction of one's immune system.

AIDS was discovered just over thirty years ago. It has become one of the leading causes of death worldwide. As time went on, research, investment and commitment into understanding HIV increased, treatment methods evolved, and the outcome of people living with HIV improved around the world. In the early years of the epidemic, AIDS was unknown, misunderstood, feared, untreatable and often fatal. After many years, a virus named HIV was discovered and linked to AIDS. This was the turning point in AIDS history. HIV history then took a sharp turn with the development of highly-effective antiretroviral drugs which meant that, with access to treatment, people could lead relatively healthy lives with HIV.

Disease Itself

"AIDS" stands for Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome. Acquired means that it is not inherited from your parents but is something you acquire after birth. Immuno means the body's immune system which includes all the organs and cells that work to fight off infection or disease. Deficiency means that the immune system is deficient or is not working the way it should. Syndrome is a collection of symptoms and signs of disease. AIDS is a syndrome and not a single disease because of the fact that it is a complex illness with a wide range of complications and symptoms. AIDS is the progressed stage of HIV. Not everyone who has HIV progresses to AIDS. If a person has the proper treatment, "antiretroviral therapy" or ART, a person can keep the level of the HIV virus low. This treatment is the use of HIV medicines to fight HIV infection. It involves taking a combination of HIV medicines every day. The medicines control the virus so that a person can live a longer and healthier life and reduce the risk of transmitting HIV to other people. Before the introduction of ART in the mid-1990s, people with HIV could progress to AIDS in just a few years. Today, a person who is diagnosed with HIV and treated before the disease is far advanced, can have a nearly normal life expectancy.[1]

"HIV" stands for Human Immunodeficiency Virus. Human means that this virus can only infect human beings. Immunodeficiency weakens your immune system, like stated before, by destroying important cells that fight disease and infection. A deficient immune system cannot protect a person. Virus means that it can only reproduce itself by taking over a cell in the body of it's host. HIV is like other viruses like the flu or common cold. However, there is an important difference. With other viruses, a person's body can clear most of those viruses out of the body with the immune system. With HIV however, the human immune system cannot get rid of the virus. Therefore, once a person has HIV, they cannot get rid of it and will have it for the rest of their life. HIV can hide in a person's cells for a long period of time until they attack a key part of the immune system. It attacks the T-cells or CD4 cells. These cells fight infections and disease in a person's body. HIV invades them and uses them to make more copies of itself to destroy more of them. After awhile, if it destroys too many of a person's CD4 cells, the body cannot fight any infections and diseases anymore. When that occurs, HIV is then considered AIDS which is the final stage of HIV infection. People who are at this stage have badly damaged immune systems. This puts a person at risk for "opportunistic infections" or OIs. If a person has one or more specific OIs, certain cancers, or a very low number of CD4 cells, then they are considered to have progressed to AIDS. If that is the case, medical intervention and treatment is needed to prevent death in the near future.[1]

Causes/How it Spreads

Number of people with HIV or AIDS in each country in 2008.

The Human Immunodeficiency Virus causes HIV infection and AIDS. The virus attacks the immune system. As the immune system weakens, the body is vulnerable to life-threatening infections and cancers. Once a person has the virus, it stays inside the body for life. The virus is spread or transmitted person-to-person in any of the following ways: through sexual contact including oral, vaginal, and anal sex, through blood via blood transfusions (now extremely rare in the U.S.) or needle sharing, and from mother to child - a pregnant woman can spread the virus to her fetus through their shared blood circulation, or a nursing mother can transmit it to her baby through feeding them her breast milk. The virus is not spread by the following: casual contact such as hugging, mosquitoes, participating in sports, or touching items that were touched by a person infected with the virus. HIV is not spread to a person who donates blood or organs. People who donate organs are never in direct contact with people who receive them. Likewise, a person who donates blood is never in contact with the person receiving it. In all these procedures, sterile needles and instruments are used. But HIV can be spread to a person receiving blood or organs from an infected donor. To reduce this risk, blood banks and organ donor programs check by screening donors, blood, and tissues thoroughly.[2]

People at high risk of getting HIV include: drug users who share needles, infants born from mothers with HIV who did not receive HIV treatment during pregnancy, and people who have unprotected sex, especially with people who have other high-risk behaviors, are HIV-positive, or have AIDS. More risk factors are people who received blood transfusions or clotting products between 1977 and 1985, which was before screening for the virus became standard practice, and sexual partners of those who engage in high-risk activities such as injection drug use or anal sex. After HIV infects the body, the virus has been found in saliva, tears, nervous system tissue and spinal fluid, blood, semen (including pre-seminal fluid, which is the liquid that comes out before ejaculation), vaginal fluid, and breast milk. Only blood, semen, vaginal secretions, and breast milk have been shown to transmit infection to others. If these body fluids come in contact with damaged tissue or is directly injected into a person's bloodstream, like a needle or syringe, transmission of the virus can possibly occur. If the fluids come in contact with a mucous membrane, transmission can also possible occur. Mucous membranes are soft, moist areas just inside the openings of one's body. They are found inside the rectum, the vagina or the opening of the penis, and the mouth.[3]


A diagram showing where the main symptoms of AIDS shows up in the body.

Many people have no symptoms when they are diagnosed with HIV. Acute HIV infection progresses over a few weeks to months to become an asymptomatic HIV infection which has no symptoms. This stage can last ten years or longer. During this period, the person can still spread the virus to others. Almost all people infected with HIV, if they are not treated, will develop AIDS. A small group of patients develop AIDS very slowly or never at all. These patients are called nonprogressors. Many seem to have genes that prevent the virus from significantly damaging their immune system. People with AIDS have had their immune system damaged by HIV. They are very susceptible to and can easily get infections that do not normally develop in people with a healthy immune system. These infections are called opportunistic infections. The common symptoms are: chills, fevers, rashes, sweats (particularly at night), swollen lymph glands, weakness, and weight loss.[4]

If a person has HIV or AIDS and they are not taking any medication like antiretroviral therapy, eventually the virus will weaken the body’s immune system. The symptoms signals the transition from the clinical latency stage to AIDS. During this late stage of HIV infection, people infected with HIV may have the following symptoms: rapid weight loss, recurring fever or profuse night sweats, extreme and unexplained tiredness, prolonged swelling of the lymph glands in the armpits, groin, or neck. There are more symptoms like diarrhea that lasts for more than a week and sores of the mouth, anus, or genitals. Pneumonia and red, brown, pink, or purplish blotches on or under the skin or inside the mouth, nose, or eyelids are also more symptoms. Finally, memory loss, depression, and other neurologic disorders are more signs. All of these symptoms could possibly mean of the progression from HIV to AIDS.[4]


There is no cure for AIDS at this time. However, treatments are available to manage symptoms. Treatment can also improve the quality and length of life for those who have already developed symptoms. Antiretroviral therapy suppresses the replication of the HIV virus in the body. A combination of antiretroviral drugs, called antiretroviral therapy (ART), also known as highly active antiretroviral therapy (HAART), is very effective in reducing the amount of HIV in the bloodstream. This is measured by the viral load or how much free virus is found in the blood. Preventing the virus from reproducing or replicating can improve T-cell counts and help the immune system recover from HIV infection. People on ART with suppressed levels of HIV can still transmit the virus to others through sex or by sharing needles. With ART, if the level of HIV remains suppressed and CD4 count remains high, life can be prolonged and improved. HIV can become resistant to one combination of ART. This is most true in patients who do not take their medications on schedule every day. Tests can check whether an HIV strain is resistant to a particular drug. This information can be useful in finding the best drug combination and for adjusting the drug combination when it starts to fail. When HIV becomes resistant to HAART, other drug combinations must be used to try to suppress the resistant HIV strain of HIV. There are a variety of new drugs on the market for treating drug-resistant HIV. Treatment with ART has complications. Each drug has its own side effects. Common side effects are: collection of fat on the back and abdomen, diarrhea, general sick feeling, headache, nausea, and weakness.[2]

When used for a long time, these drugs increase the risk of heart attack, perhaps by increasing the levels of cholesterol and glucose (sugar) in the blood. People who are on ART are monitored by their health care provider for possible side effects. Blood tests measuring CD4 counts and HIV viral load will likely be done every three months. The goal is to get the CD4 count close to normal and to suppress the amount of HIV virus in the blood to a level where it cannot be detected. Medicines may be prescribed to treat problems related to AIDS such as anemia, low white cell count, and to prevent opportunistic infections.[2] No safe and effective cure for HIV currently exists, but scientists are working hard to find one, and remain hopeful. The only way to know for sure if someone has HIV or AIDS is to get tested. Testing is relatively simple. A person can get an HIV/AIDS test from a doctor or healthcare provider, community health center, Veteran’s health center, Title X family planning clinic, and many other locations. There are also FDA-approved HIV home test kits a person can use. One of the easiest ways to find an HIV testing location is to use the HIV Testing and Care Services Locator. Someone can just type in their ZIP code and will get a list of HIV testing sites near by including those that offer free HIV testing.[1]


A quick insight on how HIV/AIDS attack the immune system.

Viral Diseases


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 What Is HIV/AIDS? Web. 29 April 2014 (Last Updated).
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 What is AIDS? Averting HIV and AIDS. Web. 26 October 2014 (Accessed).
  3. How Do You Get HIV or AIDS Web. 16 June 2014 (Last Updated).
  4. 4.0 4.1 HIV & AIDS Health Center Web MD. Web. 26 October 2014 (Accessed).