Acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS) is an infectious disease that was identified in the United States in 1981. This disease was
first noted to occur among homosexual and bisexual
males in the U.S. However, AIDS now affects all
populations—men and women, heterosexuals and homosexuals, and the
young as well as the elderly.
AIDS is caused by the human immunodeficiency
virus (HIV), which damages the immune system. In a healthy person, the immune system
defends against the many different organisms that can enter the
body and cause sickness. Two main types of white blood cells are essential to proper immune function—B cells and T cells. B cells produce antibodies, which destroy foreign organisms that enter the body. T cells help regulate the production of these antibodies. The T cells are further divided into Helper T cells (also called CD4+ T cells), which increase production of antibodies, and Suppressor T cells, which decrease production of antibodies. Healthy people have up to twice as many CD4+ T cells as Suppressor T cells.
HIV attacks and destroys the CD4+ T cells. As more and more CD4+ T cells are destroyed, the immune system stops working and the person develops AIDS.
Because their ability to resist disease is
impaired, people with HIV and AIDS get sick often, and have great
difficulty recovering. Germs and diseases that would normally be destroyed—or mitigated—by a healthy immune system can cause significant disease in people with HIV and AIDS. Such infections are called “opportunistic” because they take advantage of a weakened immune system to cause disease. Some of the more serious conditions that people with HIV and AIDS are more susceptible to include the following:
People do not die from HIV infection, rather they die from opportunistic infections and other diseases their immune system is unable to fight off.
AIDS-related Complex (ARC)
AIDS-related complex (ARC) is a group of symptoms that occur after HIV infection, which are suggestive of, but not diagnosed as,
AIDS. Symptoms of ARC include the following:
Unexplained weight loss
Swollen lymph nodes
Symptoms of HIV/AIDS
Many people do not experience any symptoms when they are first
infected with HIV, and many people don't have symptoms at all for many years.
In the same manner, you can't rely on symptoms to tell if you or someone you know has AIDS. The symptoms associated with AIDS are common among many other diseases and infections. An AIDS diagnosis can only be made by a doctor, who will use specific criteria established by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
warning signs of HIV:
Rapid weight loss
Recurring fever or profuse night sweats
Profound and unexplained fatigue
Swollen lymph glands in the armpits, groin, or neck
Diarrhea that lasts more than a week
White spots or unusual blemishes on the tongue, in the mouth, or in the throat
Red, brown, pink, or purplish blotches on or under the skin, or inside the mouth, nose, or eyelids
Memory loss, depression, or other neurological disorders
Populations Most At Risk for HIV
People at high risk for becoming infected with HIV include the following groups:
Homosexual or bisexual men who are sexually active
The sexual partners of homosexual and bisexual men
Heterosexuals who have more than one sexual partner
Anyone who has vaginal, oral, or anal sex with an HIV-infected person
People who share needles or syringes (for IV drug use, tattooing, or body
piercing) and the sexual partners of people who share needles or syringes
Infants born to and/or breast-fed by mothers who are infected with HIV
In addition, there is a very small risk to people who receive transfusions of blood. This group of people was once at high risk. However, in 1985, methods were put in place to screen for and destroy HIV in donated blood products. Today, people rarely get HIV from blood transfusions because all blood and blood products are screened and treated.
Causes of HIV Infection
HIV is carried in certain bodily fluids and it can be passed from person-to-person through the exchange of these fluids. These fluids include blood, semen, pre-ejaculatory fluid, vaginal fluid, breast milk, and other bodily fluids that contain blood.
A person can become infected with HIV in the following ways:
Through unprotected (without a condom) sexual contact with a person infected with HIV. Both heterosexual or homosexual contact is risky. The virus can enter the body through tiny cuts or sores in the lining
of the vagina, vulva, penis, rectum, or mouth during anal, vaginal, or oral sex.
By sharing needles or syringes that have been contaminated with
small amounts of blood from someone who has HIV.
Rarely, through blood transfusions. This risk has dropped since new methods were put in place in 1985 to identify HIV in blood products and to treat blood products to destroy the virus. Today, blood is screened and treated, and people rarely get HIV from blood transfusions and blood products.
If a woman has HIV, she can pass the infection to her child. This can occur in a couple of ways:
Before or during birth
Through breast-feeding; breast milk can carry HIV
Health care workers may be exposed to certain bodily fluids that can carry HIV. These fluids are seen only in the health care setting:
Fluid surrounding the brain and the spinal cord
Fluid surrounding bone joints
Fluid surrounding an unborn baby
HIV has been found in the saliva of infected people, but no
studies have shown that the virus is spread by contact with saliva
or through kissing. At this time, however, it is unclear what
the risk of infection is from so-called "deep" kissing or "French" kissing, which can
involve the exchange of large amounts of saliva.
HIV is not spread through sweat, tears, urine, or
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care
provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a
substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER
IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the
advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to
starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a