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What Is HIV?

To understand what HIV is, let’s break it down:

HHuman – This particular virus can only infect human beings.

IImmunodeficiency – HIV weakens your immune system by destroying important cells that fight disease and infection. A "deficient" immune system can't protect you.

VVirus – A virus can only reproduce itself by taking over a cell in the body of its host.

Human Immunodeficiency Virus is a lot like other viruses, including those that cause the "flu" or the common cold. But there is an important difference – over time, your immune system can clear most viruses out of your body. That isn't the case with HIV – the human immune system can't seem to get rid of it. Scientists are still trying to figure out why.

We know that HIV can hide for long periods of time in the cells of your body and that it attacks a key part of your immune system – your T-cells or CD4 cells. Your body has to have these cells to fight infections and disease, but HIV invades them, uses them to make more copies of itself, and then destroys them.

Over time, HIV can destroy so many of your CD4 cells that your body can't fight infections and diseases anymore. When that happens, HIV infection can lead to AIDS.

What Is AIDS?

To understand what AIDS is, let’s break it down:

AAcquired – AIDS is not something you inherit from your parents. You acquire AIDS after birth.

IImmuno – Your body's immune system includes all the organs and cells that work to fight off infection or disease.

DDeficiency – You get AIDS when your immune system is "deficient," or isn't working the way it should.

SSyndrome – A syndrome is a collection of symptoms and signs of disease. AIDS is a syndrome, rather than a single disease, because it is a complex illness with a wide range of complications and symptoms.

Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome is the final stage of HIV infection. People at this stage of HIV disease have badly damaged immune systems, which put them at risk for opportunistic infections (OIs).

You will be diagnosed with AIDS if you have one or more specific OIs, certain cancers, or a very low number of CD4 cells. If you have AIDS, you will need medical intervention and treatment to prevent death.

For more information, see CDC’s Basic Information About HIV And AIDS.

Where Did HIV Come From?

Scientists believe HIV came from a particular kind of chimpanzee in Western Africa. Humans probably came in contact with HIV when they hunted and ate infected animals. Recent studies indicate that HIV may have jumped from monkeys to humans as far back as the late 1800s.

How Do You Get HIV?

HIV is found in specific human body fluids. If any of those fluids enter your body, you can become infected with HIV.

Which Body Fluids Contain HIV?

HIV lives and reproduces in blood and other body fluids. We know that the following fluids can contain high levels of HIV:

  • Blood
  • Semen (cum)
  • Pre-seminal fluid (pre-cum)
  • Breast milk
  • Vaginal fluids
  • Rectal (anal) mucous

Other body fluids and waste products—like feces, nasal fluid, saliva, sweat, tears, urine, or vomit—don’t contain enough HIV to infect you, unless they have blood mixed in them and you have significant and direct contact with them.

For more information, see CDC’s HIV Transmission: Which Body Fluids Transmit HIV?

Healthcare workers may be exposed to some other body fluids with high concentrations of HIV, including:

How Is HIV Transmitted Through Body Fluids?

HIV is transmitted through body fluids in very specific ways:

  •  
  • During sexual contact: When you have anal, oral, or vaginal sex with a partner, you will usually have contact with your partner’s body fluids. If your partner has HIV, those body fluids can deliver the virus into your bloodstream through microscopic breaks or rips in the delicate linings of your vagina, vulva, penis, rectum, or mouth. Rips in these areas are very common and mostly unnoticeable. HIV can also enter through open sores, like those caused by herpes or syphilis, if infected body fluids get in them.
    You need to know that it’s much easier to get HIV (or to give it to someone else), if you have a sexually transmitted disease (STD). For more information, see CDC's The Role Of STD Detection And Treatment In HIV Prevention.
  •  
  • During pregnancy, childbirth, or breastfeeding: Babies have constant contact with their mother’s body fluids-including amniotic fluid and blood-throughout pregnancy and childbirth. After birth, infants can get HIV from drinking infected breast milk.
  •  
  • As a result of injection drug use: Injecting drugs puts you in contact with blood-your own and others, if you share needles and “works”. Needles or drugs that are contaminated with HIV-infected blood can deliver the virus directly into your body.
  •  
  • As a result of occupational exposure: Healthcare workers have the greatest risk for this type of HIV transmission. If you work in a healthcare setting, you can come into contact with infected blood or other fluids through needle sticks or cuts. A few healthcare workers have been infected when body fluids splashed into their eyes, mouth, or into an open sore or cut.
  •  
  • As a result of a blood transfusion with infected blood or an organ transplant from an infected donor: Screening requirements make both of these forms of HIV transmission very rare in the United States.

How Do You Get AIDS?

AIDS is the late stage of HIV infection, when a person’s immune system is severely damaged and has difficulty fighting diseases and certain cancers. Before the development of certain medications, people with HIV could progress to AIDS in just a few years. Currently, people can live much longer - even decades - with HIV before they develop AIDS. This is because of “highly active” combinations of medications that were introduced in the mid 1990s. Read more about how HIV causes AIDS.

What are the Symptoms of HIV?

The symptoms of HIV vary, depending on the individual and what stage of the disease you are in.

Early Stage of HIV: Symptoms

Within 2-4 weeks after HIV infection, many, but not all, people experience flu-like symptoms, often described as the “worst flu ever.” This is called “acute retroviral syndrome” (ARS) or “primary HIV infection,” and it’s the body’s natural response to the HIV infection.

Symptoms can include:

  • Fever (this is the most common symptom)
  • Swollen glands
  • Sore throat
  • Rash
  • Fatigue
  • Muscle and joint aches and pains
  • Headache

These symptoms can last anywhere from a few days to cheap IWC replica watches several weeks. However, you should not assume you have HIV if you have any of these symptoms. Each of these symptoms can be caused by other illnesses. Conversely, not everyone who is infected with HIV develops ARS. Many people who are infected with HIV do not have any symptoms at all for 10 years or more. 

You cannot rely on symptoms to know whether you have HIV. The only way to know for sure if you are infected with HIV is to get tested. If you think you have recently been exposed to HIV—if you have had oral, vaginal or anal sex without a condom with a known HIV positive person or a partner whose HIV status you do not know or shared needles to inject drugs—get an HIV test. Traditional HIV tests detect HIV antibodies. But during this early stage your body is not yet producing these antibodies. A new HIV test was approved in 2013 that can detect the presence of HIV in your body during this early stage of infection. So no matter where you get tested, it is very important to let your provider know that you may have been recently infected with HIV and you would like to be tested for acute HIV. Use the HIV/AIDS Testing and Services Locator to find a HIV testing site near you or enter your location here:


It is important to remember that with or without symptoms, you are at particularly high risk of transmitting HIV to your sexual or drug using partners during this time because the levels of HIV in your blood stream are very high. For this reason, it is very important to take steps to reduce your risk of transmission.

The Clinical Latency Stage

After the early stage of HIV infection, the disease moves into a stage called the “clinical latency” stage. “Latency” means a period where a virus is living or developing in a person without producing symptoms. During the clinical latency stage, people who are infected with HIV experience no HIV-related symptoms, or only mild ones. (This stage is sometimes called “asymptomatic HIV infection” or “chronic HIV infection.”)

During the clinical latency stage, the HIV virus reproduces at very low levels, although it is still active. If you take antiretroviral therapy (ART), you may live with clinical latency for several decades because treatment helps keep the virus in check. (Read more about HIV treatment.) For people who are not on ART, this clinical latency stage lasts an average of 10 years, but some people may progress through this phase faster.

It is important to remember that people in this symptom-free period are still able to transmit HIV to others even if they are on ART, although ART greatly reduces the risk of transmission.

Again, the only way to know for sure if you are infected with HIV is to get tested. Tests are available that can detect the virus at this stage. Use the HIV/AIDS Testing and Services Locator to find a HIV testing site near you.

Progression to AIDS: Symptoms

If you have HIV and you are not taking HIV medication (antiretroviral therapy), eventually the HIV virus will weaken your body’s immune system. The onset of symptoms signals the transition from the clinical latency stage to AIDS (Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome).

During this late stage of HIV infection, people infected with HIV may have the following symptoms:

  • Rapid weight loss cartier replica watches
  • Recurring fever or profuse night sweats
  • Extreme and unexplained tiredness
  • Prolonged swelling of the lymph glands in the armpits, groin, or neck
  • Diarrhea that lasts for more than a week
  • Sores of the mouth, anus, or genitals
  • Pneumonia
  • Red, brown, pink, or purplish blotches on or under the skin or inside the mouth, nose, or eyelids
  • Memory loss, depression, and other neurologic disorders.

Each of these symptoms can be related to other illnesses. So, as noted above, the only way to know for sure if you are infected with HIV is to get tested.

Many of the severe symptoms and illnesses of HIV disease come from the opportunistic infections that occur because your body’s immune system has been damaged. (Read more about opportunistic illnesses.)

The Global HIV/AIDS Crisis Today

HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, has become one of the world’s most serious health and development challenges:

  • 33.4 million are currently living with HIV/AIDS. breitling replica for sale
  • More than 25 million people have died of AIDS worldwide since the first cases were reported in 1981.
  • In 2008, 2 million people died due to HIV/AIDS, and another 2.7 million were newly infected.
  • While cases have been reported in all regions of the world, almost all those living with HIV (97%) reside in low- and middle-income countries, particularly in sub-Saharan Africa.
  • According to the World Health Organization (WHO), most people living with HIV or at risk for HIV do not have access to prevention, care, and treatment, and there is still no cure.
  • The HIV epidemic not only affects the health of individuals, it impacts households, communities, and the development and economic growth of nations. Many of the countries hardest hit by HIV also suffer from other infectious diseases, food insecurity, and other serious problems. Breitling Replica bently watches
  • Despite these challenges, there have been successes and promising signs. New global efforts have been mounted to address the epidemic, particularly in the last decade. Prevention has helped to reduce HIV prevalence rates in a small but growing number of countries and new HIV infections are believed to be on the decline. In addition, the number of people with HIV receiving treatment in resource poor countries has increased 10-fold since 2002, reaching an estimated 4 million by 2008.

Overview compiled with information from WHO Exit Disclaimer, USAID and Kaiser Family Foundation Exit Disclaimer.

The United States supports a wide range of activities—from research and development to technical assistance and financial support to other nations—to combat the global HIV/AIDS pandemic.  Read about PEPFAR and U.S. government global HIV/AIDS activities.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
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