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Approximately 1.1 million people who are living with AIDS in the United States of America. Almost one in seven of these people are unaware they have AIDS/HIV. AIDS stands for acquired immune deficiency syndrome, also referred to as advanced HIV infection or late-stage HIV. AIDS is a collection of symptoms and illnesses that originate as a result of advanced HIV infection which has destroyed the immune system. Medication for HIV means that more people are staying strong, with fewer people developing AIDS. If untreated, a person’s immune system will ultimately be destroyed.
AIDS is an abbreviation for acquired immunodeficiency syndrome. AIDS is not a virus, but a collection of symptoms (or syndrome) originated from an HIV infection. A person is assumed to have AIDS when their immune system is too weak to fight off infection, and they acquire specific characteristic symptoms and illnesses. AIDS is cited as the final stage of HIV when the virus level is very high, and if left untreated will lead to death. The disease changes the immune system, making people much more vulnerable to infections and diseases. This susceptibility worsens if the syndrome progresses.
HIV stands for human immunodeficiency virus. HIV is the virus that strikes the immune system, which is our body’s natural protection against illness. The virus terminates a type of white blood cell in the immune system called a T-helper cell and duplicates itself inside these cells. T-helper cells are also cited as CD4 cells.
As HIV destroys more CD4 cells and makes more copies of itself, it gradually breaks down a person’s immune system. This means someone living with HIV, who are not receiving medication, will find it harder and harder to fight off viruses and infections.
If HIV is untreated, it may take up to 10 or 15 years for the immune system to be so harshly damaged that it can no longer defend itself at all. However, the speed of HIV progression will vary depending on health, age, and background.
The virus is located in the blood, vaginal fluid, semen, and breast milk of infected people. HIV is also found in sweat, saliva, and tears, in which is not high enough to transmit the virus to another person. It is unknown if there are cases of anyone catching HIV by shaking hands, sneezing and though other physical contact.
The two most common causes of becoming infected with HIV are through sharing needles and unprotected sex. HIV may be transmitted through unprotected sex of any sort. Although the risk of spreading the virus is lower with oral sex, it is still necessary to use protection, such as a dental dam or a condom. HIV can also be carried on through perinatal infection when a mother who has HIV are at risk of passing the disease to the child during birth.
Once HIV enters the bloodstream, it takes over cells vital to the immune response, known as CD4+ lymphocytes. The virus then inserts its genes inside the cell, turning it into a small factory that produces more copies of itself. Gradually, the concentration of the virus in the blood increases, and the number of healthy CD4+ cells drops. The destruction of CD4+ cells interferes with the body’s capability to fight off infections and other diseases. This puts those infected with HIV at risk of catching any number of other illnesses.
HIV’s symptoms vary by individual and disease stage.
Early Stage HIV
Around 40% to 90% of people experience flu-like symptoms 2-4 weeks after HIV infection. These symptoms can last anything from a few days to several weeks. At this time, HIV infections may not register on some types of HIV tests, but those people who have it are highly infectious and can spread the virus to another.
You should not assume you have contracted HIV just because you have any of these symptoms. Other illnesses can cause each of these symptoms and some people who have HIV may not show any signs at all for ten years or more.
Clinical Latency Stage
After the early stage of HIV infection, the disease moves into a phase called the clinical latency stage (also known as “chronic HIV infection”). During this stage, HIV is still active but reproduces at deficient levels. People with chronic HIV disease may not have any HIV-related symptoms or only mild ones.
For people who are not taking medicine to treat HIV (called antiretroviral therapy or ART), this stage can last a decade or much longer, but for some, it may progress through this phase faster. For those people who are taking medicine to treat HIV, and who take their medications the right way, every day, this period may take up for several decades because treatment helps keep the virus in check.
It is important to know that people can still transmit HIV to others during this stage even if they are not exhibiting any symptoms, although people who are on ART and having a shallow level of virus in their blood are much less likely to transmit HIV than those who are not, this is still only comparative, and you should always use protection to prevent spreading the virus.
Progression to AIDS
When you have HIV, and you are not on ART, eventually, the virus will weaken your body’s immune system, and it will progress to AIDS (acquired immunodeficiency syndrome), the final stage of an HIV infection.
Symptoms can include:
All of these symptoms can also be connected to other illnesses. So the only way to know for sure if you have HIV is to get a test.
Researchers and scientists are focussed more and more on the possibility of a cure. As of now, there is no curative treatment for HIV and AIDS yet. However, some treatments can prevent HIV and others enable people to live a long and healthy life. If you are at risk of HIV, it is essential to get a test to find out your HIV status.
There has also been lots of research and study into an HIV vaccine, with many trials showing encouraging results. However, a vaccine would only offer partial protection and would still need to be used in combination with other treatments. This area is constantly being investigated for new therapies, treatments and possibilities to further improve the quality of life of those with the virus.
AIDS stands for acquired immunodeficiency syndrome. It is the last stage of infection with HIV. The minority people who have HIV develop AIDS. HIV most often is caught during unprotected sex with an infected person. It may also be transmitted by sharing needles or through contact with the blood of an infected person. There is no cure, but there are many treatments that fight HIV the infection and lower the risk of infecting others.
Strategies to overcome the risk of spreading or contracting HIV are to practice safe sex, limit the number of sexual partners, never share needles, and use condoms during sex. For some people who are in high risk situations, the may be able to take HIV prevention medications. But for now, the best thing to do for your health is to test periodically for HIV. If you have the virus, start the treatment and keep taking it daily.