AIDS (Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome) is a condition caused by the Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) that attacks the immune system, crippling the cells that protect the body from infections. People with AIDS are vulnerable to illnesses that are not usually a threat to anyone whose immune system is intact.
HIV is transmitted through the exchange of certain bodily fluids; blood; semen; pre-ejaculates; vaginal secretions and mother’s milk. This transmission can occur:
- By having unprotected sex – anal, vaginal, or oral – with someone who is infected with the HIV virus.
- By sharing needles and syringes or tattoo or ear/body piercing needles with an infected person.
- From an infected mother before, during or after childbirth.
- Through exposure to contaminated blood.
Once the virus enters the blood stream it must enter a cell in order to live and reproduce. The virus enters a key type of white blood cell in the immune system called a T Cell. The virus reproduces and destroys the T Cell. The newly produced HIV then moves into a new T Cell and infects it. At first the body makes more T cells to replace the destroyed ones, but after a time (will depend on the individual case) the body cannot keep up production. When this happens the person is said to have developed AIDS. As the immune system fails, the patient becomes more vulnerable to opportunistic infections, such as tuberculosis, pneumonia, Kaposi’s sarcoma. About half the people with the HIV infection developed AIDS within 10 years.
Despite the lack of cure, in many cases Anti Retrovirals (ARV’s), including AZT and protease inhibitors, help slow the progression of the AIDS virus. These drugs stop HIV replicating in the T Cells and stop newly produced HIV from infecting other cells. This means that the amount of HIV in body is depleted and the damage done to the immune system is reduced. Improved treatment has extended the life of individuals with the virus. Unfortunately ARV’s are not available to all those who need them. Although the price of ARV’s has been drastically reduced due to public pressure and generic drug companies (which produced cheaper versions) they are still far too expensive for many affected people within the developing world. But, there have been promising trends in treatment coverage. In 2011, ARV therapy reached 8 million people. For the first time, 54% of people eligible for ARV treatment in low- and middle income countries received it. The most effective way of controlling the epidemic is prevention. This means abstaining from sex or practicing safe sex by limiting the number of partners and using condoms consistently. It also includes refraining from injecting drug use or at least not sharing needles or syringes.
The most effective way of controlling the epidemic is prevention. This means abstaining from sex or practicing safe sex by limiting the number of partners and using condoms consistently. It also includes refraining from injection drug use or at least not sharing needles or syringes.
Based on estimates from the United Nations AIDS Program:
- It is estimated that 39.4 million people are living with HIV/AIDS worldwide.
- During 2004 4.9 million people became newly infected with the HIV virus.
- During 2004 more than 3 million people died from AIDS.
- The spread of people who are living with the disease are disproportionately situated in Sub-Saharan Africa, within this region 25.4 million people are infected, 57% of these cases are women.
Within the United States:
- Approximately 1.1 million people over 13 and older were living with HIV in 2010, with approximately 201,600 undiagnosed individuals.
- Approximately 50,00 new cases of HIV infection in 2010, with most new infections occurring in gay and bisexual men.
- The spread of people that live with HIV in the USA is disproportionately due to male-to-male sexual contact.
- The rate of new infection of HIV in the USA is disproportionately situated among African Americans.
- For men, men who have sex with men (MSM) accounted for most of the new HIV infections in 2010.
- For women, most infections are transmitted through heterosexual intercourse with an undisclosed HIV positive partner.
- In 2009, 17,774 people with an AIDS diagnosis died.