AIDS Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome

The first reported case of AIDS occurred in America in 1981. AIDS is the common abbreviation for Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome. AIDS is a serious global epidemic that is caused by the Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV). An HIV infection destroys a person's immune system, debilitating the body from combating infections and cancers that would otherwise be possible. This means that common viruses and bacteria that do not usually harm healthy people can threaten the lives of people with AIDS with what is referred to as opportunistic infections. Since 1981, over a million cases of AIDS have been documented in the USA alone. Doctors in the US estimate that there may be around a million Americans who are infected with HIV, of which about 25% of whom do not even know that they are infected. AIDS is a leading cause of death for African American men aged between twentyfive to thier mid forties and is spreading at a rapid rate through minority populations in the United States. The CDC reports that AIDS is more likely to impact African Americans (by 7 times) and Hispanics (by 3 times) than Caucasians. There has also been an alarming increase in the number of AfricanAmerican women and thier children affected by the HIV and AIDS. AfricanAmericans comprise over 60% of the population of women and children that have been diagnosed with AIDS.

How does AIDS spread?

Unprotected sex is the most common way that HIV infection is spread as the HIV virus enters the body through the lining of sexual organs and bodily orifices during intercourse.

Certain risky behaviors can result in the spread of HIV:

  • Sexual contact without the use of a condom
  • Sharing of needles and syringes for drug use
  • Sexual contact without knowing a partner's medical history

Contact with infected blood can lead to the spread of HIV:

Any contact with contaminated blood and blood components can spread HIV infection. In modern medicine, blood screening and heat treatment prevents the spread of HIV through blood transfusions.

Using contaminated needles can spread HIV , common in drug users:

When drug users share needles and syringes, infected blood spreads HIV. In extremely rare instances, contaminations may occur in health care practices through contaminated needles and medical instruments.

HIV infection can spread from a mother to child during pregnancy and birth:

HIV can be passed on to the baby of HIVinfected mother's during pregnancy or whilst giving birth. Approximately 33% of pregnant women with HIV that have not received any treatment will transmit the infection to their child. HIV can also spread through breast milk. Fortunately, there are certain drugs that the mother can take during pregnancy to greatly reduce the likelihood of spreading HIV infection to a child. Proper treatment from health care providers and delivery through cesarean section could reduce the risk of infection from mother to child to just one percent. Thanks to appropriate treatment, HIV infection in newborns is nearly unheard of in the United States today.

The National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases in Uganda has discovered an effective and safe drug that prevents the transmission of HIV from mother to child. Independent studies confirm that the treatment is the most affordable and practical on the market today. One dose of neviraphine (NVP antiretroviral drug) given / taken orally by the mother during labour and another dose administered to the baby within three days of being born reduces the risk of transmission by over 50% compared to a course of Azidothymidine (AZT).

Sexually transmitted infections put you at greater risk of contracting a HIV infection:

STIs such as such as genital herpes, syphilis, gonorrhea, bacterial vaginosis or chlamydial infection, puts you at a much greater risk of HIV infection during sexual contact.

Saliva and casual contact do not spread HIV infection, this is a common myth:

Saliva is naturally limiting for the HIV virus and does not spread HIV through kissing or the sharing of foods and dinks. Research has shown that HIV infection does not spread through saliva and casual contact. There is no spread of HIV through shared use of bedding and clothes, phones, toilet seats or communal swimming pools. HIV also cannot be spread by insects such as mosquitoes and bedbugs. There is no evidence of HIV spreading through sweat, tears, urine, or feces.

What are the symptoms of HIV Infection?

There are typically no early symptoms to indicate that one has become infected with HIV. The early stage of HIV infection without any noticeable or severe symptoms is known as the asymptomatic period. During the asymptomatic period, a patient is highly infectious and carries the HIV virus in extremely high quantities in his or her genital fluids. The virus may be lying dormant or steadily multiplying, infecting, and killing off the patient's immune system. A detectable indication of HIV infection is a sudden decline in the number of CD4 positive T cells which are a key component of the immune system.

Sometimes, patients report flulike symptoms after a month or two of exposure to the HIV virus such as fever, headache, tiredness, and enlarged lymph nodes. Such symptoms tend to vanish after a month at most and are easily mistaken as signs of another viral infection.

It may take months to years for more severe symptoms of HIV infection to surface in an individual. These symptoms range from a lack of energy, weight loss, frequent fever, sweating, persistent and frequent infections, persistent skin rashes, flaky skin, and short term memory loss. Women may experience pelvic inflammatory diseases that do not respond well to medical treatment. It may take up to ten years for severe symptoms of HIV infection to occur in adults. For children, it may take up to two years. Some patients report regular herpes infections that manifest as sores in the anal, genital, and oral area while others report cases of shingles, a painful nerve disease. In children, the early stages of HIV infection often entails lots of illnesses and slow growth.

So, what exactly is AIDS?

The advanced stages of HIV infection is known as AIDS. The CDC is the official body responsible for keeping track of the spread of AIDS in the United States and has developed a criteria to define AIDS. According to the CDC, a person who has an HIV infection and has fewer than 200 CD4+ T cells per cubic millimeter of blood has AIDS. A typically healthy adult has CD4+ T cell count of one thousand or more. There are about 26 other clinical conditions that the CDC defines AIDS by, conditions which indicate opportunistic infections that do not harm healthy individuals.

Opportunistic infections occurring in people with AIDS tend to have the following symptoms: coughing, shortness of breath, seizures, a lack of coordination, difficulty swallowing, confusion, forgetfulness, severe diarrhea, fever, loss of vision, nausea, cramps, vomiting, weight loss, fatigue, severe headaches, and coma.

In children, AIDS may amplify the effects of common childhood bacterial infections such as pink eye, ear infections, and tonsillitis. AIDS patients are also especially vulnerable to various cancers, particularly those caused by viruses such as cervical cancer or lymphomas. Such cancers are very aggressive and difficult to treat in AIDS patients.

AIDS can prevent people from holding steady jobs or carrying out every day household tasks. It is a serious illness that can debilitate day to day living. However, there are a small number of people who have been infected with HIV without progressing to the stage of AIDS after ten or more years. Scientists are hard at work to study these individuals to figure out what factors account for their avoidance of AIDS. It may be that they are genetically protected from HIV by certain characteristics of their immune system, or they may be carrying a less aggressive strain of HIV. Understanding whatever natural method of how the human body copes with HIV will help scientists develop vaccines in the future.

How is AIDS diagnosed?

AIDS is best diagnosed by blood tests. Since the onset of HIV infection often comes with no symptoms, the blood is tested for antibodies to HIV. It may take one to three months after an infection for antibodies to be formed by your body. In some instances, it may take up to six months for antibodies to reach detectable levels. In this case, you can be tested for the presence of any genetic material that indicates HIV. This is known as direct screening and is efficient in diagnosing recently infected patients.

Anonymous testing is available through various health care providers. There are typically two different types of tests used: ELISA and Western Blot. Your medical professional may recommend further testing or to postpone further testing until a later date to allow time for antibodies to develop to a detectable state.

Children whose mothers have been infected with HIV may carry their mothers' antibodies for a few months. If such children do not display any symptoms, there is no way to diagnose an HIV infection through a standard blood test for antibodies. Fortunately, the technology to detect HIV infection in infants aged from three to fifteen months is improving and the study of blood tests to determine what method is best for infants under three months is ongoing.

What is the treatment for AIDS?

The treatment for AIDS has advanced greatly since the disease first surfaced in the United States. There is now prescription medication available to patients to fight HIV infection and its symptomatic infections and cancers.

The first class of drugs approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) prevents the HIV virus from producing copies of itself and slows the spread of HIV throughout the body, slowing down the triggering of opportunistic infections. These drugs are RT inhibitors called nucleoside analogs:

  • Abacavir (ziagen)
  • ddI (dideoxyinosine)
  • d4T (stavudine)
  • ddC (zalcitabine)
  • Emtriva (emtricitabine)
  • 3TC (lamivudine)
  • AZT (Azidothymidine)
  • Tenofovir (viread)

Your doctor may also prescribe NNRTIs such as:

  • Efravirenz (Sustiva)
  • Nevirapine (Viramune)
  • Delavridine (Rescriptor)

The second class of drugs which have been approved by the FDA is made up of protease inhibitors and prevent the virus from copying itself at a later point.

  • Ritonavir (Norvir)
  • Fosamprenavir (Lexiva)
  • Lopinavir (Kaletra)
  • Nelfinavir (Viracept)
  • Amprenivir (Agenerase)
  • Indinavir (Crixivan)
  • Atazanavir (Reyataz)
  • Saquinivir (Invirase)

The third class of drugs approved by the FDA is made up of fusion inhibitors. In this class is the drug Fuzeon, also known as enfuvirtide or T20, which prevents the HIV1 virus from merging with the cell membrane, blocking the virus from entering healthy cells. Fuzeon is meant to be used in conjunction with other HIV treatments by reducing the likelihood of infection of healthy blood. Fuzeon may also combat strains of HIV that are resistant to more common antiviral treatments.

Currently, doctors find that the best method of treatment for AIDS is to use a combination of several different drugs. When three or more drugs are used, the method of treatment is referred to as highly active antiretroviral therapy, or HAART. Unfortunately, HAART is not a cure for AIDS, but it has been credited with greatly improving the quality of life for AIDS patients.

There are some side effects to HAART such as a decrease in red or white blood cells, especially for patients who are at the later stages of AIDS. Inflammation of the pancreas as well as severe nerve damage are other side effects. There have been instances of death as a result of certain drugs so it is important to visit your health care provider regularly during AIDS treatment.

More common side effects are nausea, diarrhea, allergic reactions, pneumonia, difficulty breathing, chills, fever, rash, blood in urine, vomiting, and low blood pressure. If you experience any symptoms while being treated for AIDS, please consult your doctor straight away.

There are drugs that specifically target opportunistic infections for AIDS patients. Such drugs include Foscarnet and ganciclovir which treat CMV eye infections. Fluconazole treats yeast and fungal infections. TMP/SMX or pentamidine treats PCP, pneumocystis carinii pneumonia. For AIDS patients who develop cancers, radiation, chemotherapy, and injections of genetically engineered protein are some of the various treatment options available.

How can AIDS be prevented?

Unfortunately, there is no preventative vaccine for HIV infection. The only way to protect yourself from HIV is to avoid risky behaviors such as sharing needles and unprotected sexual contact. Remember that many people who have been infected by the HIV virus display no symptoms, so it is important to know the medical history of your sexual partners. Spermicides cannot prevent HIV infection. Always use protection: latex condoms for males and polyurethane condoms for females. Latex condoms must be used with waterbased lubricants only.

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