AIDS (Acquired immune deficiency syndrome or acquired immunodeficiency syndrome) is a syndrome caused by a virus called HIV (Human Immunodeficiency Virus). The illness alters the immune system, making people much more vulnerable to infections and diseases. This susceptibility worsens as the syndrome progresses.
HIV is found in the body fluids of an infected person (semen and vaginal fluids, blood and breast milk). The virus is passed from one person to another through blood-to-blood and sexual contact. In addition, infected pregnant women can pass HIV to their babies during pregnancy, delivering the baby during childbirth, and through breast feeding.
HIV can be transmitted in many ways, such as vaginal, oral sex, anal sex, blood transfusion, and contaminated hypodermic needles.
The red ribbon is the worldwide symbol of support and awareness for people living with HIV.
Both the virus and the syndrome are often referred to together as HIV/AIDS. People with HIV have what is called HIV infection. As a result, some will then develop AIDS. The development of numerous opportunistic infections in an AIDS patient can ultimately lead to death.
According to research, the origins of HIV date back to the late nineteenth or early twentieth century in west-central Africa. AIDS and its cause, HIV, were first identified and recognized in the early 1980s.
There is currently no cure for HIV or AIDS. Treatments can slow the course of the condition - some infected people can live a long and relatively healthy life.
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You may also see introductions at the end of some sections to any recent developments that have been covered by MNT's news stories. Also look out for links to information about related conditions.
Fast facts on HIV and AIDS
Here are some key points about HIV and AIDS. More detail and supporting information is in the main article.
- The US Centers for Disease Control (CDC) reported the first five known cases of HIV in Los Angeles in June of 1981.
- There are more than 1.2 million people in the US aged 13 years or older living with HIV infection, and around 1 in 7 (14%) unaware of their infection.
- HIV incidence has remained stable at around 50,000 new HIV infections per year.
- Gay, bisexual, and other men who have sex with men of all races and ethnicities remain the population most profoundly affected by HIV.
- New HIV infections among women are mainly attributed to heterosexual contact or injection drug use.
- African Americans experience the most severe burden of HIV, compared with other races and ethnicities.
- An estimated 13,712 people with an AIDS diagnosis die per year in the US.
- There is still no cure for HIV, and it can take a huge financial toll on those living with the condition.
- The average cost of treating a person with HIV over the course of their lifetime is $379,668.
- There are numerous tools to prevent HIV such as limiting sexual partners, never sharing needles and using condoms consistently and correctly.
What is HIV/AIDS?
HIV is the virus which attacks the T-cells in the immune system.
AIDS is the syndrome which appears in advanced stages of HIV infection.
HIV is a virus.
AIDS is a medical condition.
HIV can be passed from one person to another through blood-to-blood and sexual contact.
HIV infection causes AIDS to develop. However, it is possible to be infected with HIV without developing AIDS. Without treatment, the HIV infection is allowed to progress and eventually it will develop into AIDS in the vast majority of cases.
HIV testing can identify infection in the early stages. This allows the patient to use prophylactic (preventive) drugs which will slow the rate at which the virus replicates, delaying the onset of AIDS.
AIDS patients still have the HIV virus and are still infectious. Someone with AIDS can pass HIV to someone else.
Causes of HIV/AIDS
HIV is a retrovirus that infects the vital organs of the human immune system. The virus progresses in the absence of antiretroviral therapy. The rate of virus progression varies widely between individuals and depends on many factors (age of the patient, body's ability to defend against HIV, access to health care, existence of coexisting infections, the infected person's genetic inheritance, resistance to certain strains of HIV).
HIV can be transmitted through:
- Sexual transmission. It can happen when there is contact with infected sexual secretions (rectal, genital or oral mucous membranes). This can happen while having unprotected sex, including vaginal, oral and anal sex or sharing sex toys with someone infected with HIV.
- Perinatal transmission. The mother can pass the infection on to her child during childbirth, pregnancy, and also through breastfeeding.
- Blood transmission. The risk of transmitting HIV through blood transfusion is nowadays extremely low in developed countries, thanks to meticulous screening and precautions. Among drug users, sharing and reusing syringes contaminated with HIV-infected blood is extremely hazardous.
Thanks to strict protection procedures the risk of accidental infection for healthcare workers is low.
Individuals who give and receive tattoos and piercings are also at risk and should be very careful.
Common Myths About HIV and AIDS
There are many misconceptions about HIV and AIDS. The virus CANNOT be transmitted from:
- shaking hands
- casual kissing
- touching unbroken skin
- using the same toilet
- sharing towels
- sharing cutlery
- mouth-to-mouth resuscitation
- or other forms of "casual contact"
On the next page we look at the signs and symptoms of HIV and AIDS and the methods of diagnosis. On the final page we discuss the available treatments for HIV and AIDS, plus we look at prevention and management.