What You Need to Know About HIV and AIDS


When the first known case of Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS) was recognized in New York and Los Angeles in June 5, 1981, the world’s attention was immediately caught and people almost put a sudden halt in their sexual activities. A great confusion followed in regards to the relationship of AIDS to Human Immunodeficiency Virus. Is AIDS caused by HIV or the other way around? Does the existence of AIDS in one person automatically translate to the existence of AIDS in another? Along with the great confusion came a heightened stigma and prejudice against homosexual men who were believed to be the first to have contacted the disease.

AIDS is the conglomeration of symptoms and infections in humans as an outcome of being infected with the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), which causes specific and irreversible damages to the immune system. Ironically though, AIDS was first to be discovered before HIV. It was only in 1983, two years after the historic 1981 AIDS cases were recorded, that the Human Immunodeficiency Virus was discovered. It was at the Pasteur Institute in France that scientists, led by Luc Montagnier, discovered the cause of AIDS–HIV. It was not even labeled HIV then. The first name for it was lymphadenopathy-associated virus (LAV). A year later, Americans confirmed the discovery of the virus but re-named it as T lymphotropic virus type III (HTLV-III). This then created some political stir between France and the United States government. The conflict was eventually settled when President Mitterrand of France and President Reagan of the USA finally agreed to call it by one name in 1986– HIV. There are two known species of the HIV Virus, the HIV-1 and HIV-2. Both are believed by scientists to have come from West Africa.

However, studies have confirmed that HIV infection comes first before AIDS. HIV is a retrovirus; it belongs to the viral family Retroviridae. Viruses in this family are enveloped viruses possessing an RNA genome and replicate via a DNA intermediate. A dramatic reduction in the vitality of the human immune system is the primary result of an infection of HIV. It directly and indirectly destroys marcophages, dendric cells, and CD4+ T cells of the body. These elements are very essential in the proper functioning of the human immune system. Once the immune system is attacked by HIV, various infections and diseases start to manifest; the collection of these diseases is what we call AIDS. The most common diseases caused by HIV are acute renal failure, cardiomyopathy, dementia, and encephalopathy. HIV also attack the brain, heart, and kidney. Many of the problems faced by people infected with HIV result from the failure of the immune system to protect the body from opportunistic infections and cancers.

What immediately follows after an exposure to sources of HIV is the development of acute infections. The stage of acute infections or primary infections is the period when the virus replicates inside the body and causes flu-like infections such as fever, malaise, myalgia, pharyngitis, lymphadenopathy, and fever. Since flu-like infections such as these are very common among people with flu, these symptoms of a possible HIV infection are mostly being dismissed as mere cases of flu. In most cases, the infection is only realized to be an HIV infection if the case has already turned into an AIDS disease. The second stage of HIV infection is the chronic asymptomatic infection stage. This stage is chararcterized by a long duration of infection, an average of 8 to 10 years, without symptoms. Infections on this stage range from unexplained chronic diarrhea, persistent fever, severe weight loss, oral hairy leukoplakia, candidiasis, and severe bacterial infections including pulmonary tuberculosis. It is at stage two that the body’s CD4+ T Cells count starts to drop below the 500 count. When the CD4+ T Cells count reaches below 200 count, the HIV infection then leads to AIDS.

Very rare cancer cases, neurological complications, and drastic malnutrition are the general symptoms of AIDS. Further, acquiring AIDS leads to more harmful diseases like common bacterial infections (Toxoplasmosis, Progressive multifocal leukoencephalopathy, Escherichia coli, Listeria, Campylobacter, Salmonella, and Shigella), Kaposi’s sarcoma (cancer of the blood vessel), Pneumocystis jiroveci pneumonia (caused by yeast-like fungal infection), and dementia complex.

The ways through which humans can have an HIV infection are the same as the way they can get AIDS. Among the most common modes of transmission are unprotected sexual contact (vaginal, oral, and anal contacts) with an HIV-infected person, blood or blood product route, and pregnant women instances or mother-to-child transmission. The means to avoid being infected also go the same for both HIV and AIDS. To avoid infection through sexual contact, abstinence or the use of condom, to avoid exposure to infected bodily fluids, are most advised by many doctors. On the other hand, needles should never be shared to prevent HIV or AIDS transmission through blood product routes.

It is good for people to know that HIV or AIDS is not an airborne disease nor is it transmissible by mere physical contact to avoid *paranoia cases* and unfounded judgments towards others. Currently, HIV is a disease that can be treated but not cured. Anti-retroviral agents, which are not accessible to most people with HIV, can only go as far as reducing the complications but cannot totally eradicate the presence of HIV. As of now, no vaccine has yet been developed to prevent the transmission of HIV, more so the deadly existence of AIDS.

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