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Acute Immunodeficiency Syndrome;
Human Immunodeficiency Virus

DESCRIPTION: HIV causes AIDS. HIV (Human Immunodeficiency Virus) infection has now spread to every country in the world and has infected more than 40 million people worldwide as of the end of 2003. More than 1.1 million people in the United States have been infected with HIV. The scourge of HIV has been particularly devastating in Sub-Saharan Africa. The proportion of adult women among those infected with HIV is increasing.

HIV: HIV is a lenti-virus of a subgroup of retroviruses. The virus kills or damages cells of the body’s immune system. HIV progressively destroys the body’s ability to fight infections and certain cancers. People diagnosed with AIDS may develop life-threatening diseases from viruses or bacteria that rarely make healthy people sick. These infections are called opportunistic infections.

AIDS: AIDS (Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome) was first recognized in 1981 in New York City. The epidemic is growing most rapidly among minority populations. The virus was identified in 1983. A diagnostic blood test was developed in 1985.

RESEARCH: Research on HIV infection includes the development and testing of HIV vaccines and new therapies for the disease and its associated conditions. Currently, 28 HIV vaccines are being tested on humans, and many drugs for HIV- or AIDS-associated infections are either being developed or tested. Researchers are also investigating how HIV damages the immune system and are trying to trace how the disease progresses in different people. Scientists are testing chemical barriers that can be used during sex to prevent HIV transmission. There are multiple public health programs to explain methods to prevent HIV transmission. These include educating the public about the dangers of sexually transmitted diseases and modifying behavioral risks.

HOW IS IT SPREAD: Most commonly, HIV infection is spread by having sex with an infected partner. The virus can enter the body through the lining of the vagina, vulva, penis, rectum, or mouth during sex. Although initially AIDS cases occurred primarily in homosexual males in the United States, more recently the majority of new cases are in the heterosexual population. HIV also spreads through contact with infected blood through a transfusion of contaminated blood or blood components. HIV frequently spreads among injection drug users who share needles or syringes that are contaminated with blood from an infected person. Women can transmit HIV to their babies during pregnancy or birth.

HOW IS IT "NOT" SPREAD: The virus does not spread through casual contact such as sharing of food, utensils, towels and bedding, swimming pools, telephones, or toilet seats. The virus is also unlikely to be spread by contact with saliva.

WHO IS MOST LIKELY TO CONTRACT HIV: People who already have a sexually transmitted disease, such as syphilis, genital herpes, chlamydial infection, gonorrhea, or bacterial vaginosis, are more likely to acquire HIV infection during sex with an infected partner.

INITIAL SYMPTOMS: Many people do not develop symptoms after getting infected with HIV. Some people have a flu-like illness within several days to weeks after exposure to the virus. They complain of fever, headache, tiredness, and enlarged lymph glands in the neck. These symptoms usually disappear on their own within a few weeks. Following initial infection, there may be no symptoms. The progression of disease varies widely among individuals. This state may last from a few months to more than 10 years.

THEN WHAT HAPPENS: During this period, the virus continues to multiply actively and infects and kills the cells of the immune system. The immune system allows us to fight against the bacteria, viruses, and other infectious causes. The virus destroys the cells that are the primary infection fighters, called CD4+ or T4 cells.

Kaposi's Sarcoma

WHAT HAPPENS ONCE THE IMMUNE SYSTEM IS WEAKENED? Once the immune system weakens, a person infected with HIV can develop the following symptoms: Lack of energy, weight loss, frequent fevers and sweats, persistent or frequent yeast infections, persistent skin rashes or flaky skin, short-term memory loss, mouth, genital, or anal sores from herpes infections.

WHAT IS THE MOST ADVANCED STAGE OF HIV? AIDS (a.k.a. full-blown AIDS) is the most advanced stage of HIV infection. The definition of AIDS includes all HIV-infected people who have fewer than 200 CD4+ cells per microliter of blood. The definition also includes 26 conditions that are common in advanced HIV disease but that rarely occur in healthy people. Most of these conditions are infections caused by bacteria, viruses, fungi, parasites, and other organisms. Opportunistic infections are common in people with AIDS. Nearly every organ system is affected.

Kaposi's Sarcoma

WHAT ARE THE SIGNS AND SYMPTOMS AT THIS ADVANCED STAGE? Some of the common symptoms include the following: Cough and shortness of breath, seizures and lack of coordination, difficult or painful swallowing, mental symptoms such as confusion and forgetfulness, severe and persistent diarrhea, fever, vision loss, nausea, abdominal cramps, and vomiting. Weight loss and extreme fatigue, severe headaches with neck stiffness and coma.

DOES CANCER REALLY DEVELOP DURING THE LATE STAGES? Yes! People with AIDS are prone to develop various cancers such as Kaposi's sarcoma, cervical cancer, and cancers of the immune system known as lymphomas. Kaposi sarcoma causes round, brown, reddish or purple spots that develop in the skin or in the mouth. After the diagnosis of AIDS is made, the average survival time has been estimated to be 2 - 3 years.

DISCLAIMER: **This web site's goal is to provide you with information that may be useful in attaining optimal health. Nothing in it is meant as a prescription or as medical advice. You should check with your physician before implementing any changes in your exercise or lifestyle habits, especially if you have physical problems or are taking medications of any kind.