AIDS – Acquire Immunodeficiency Syndrome
For those not aware, AIDS stands for Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome and is the most advanced stage of HIV infection. It is caused by untreated Human Immunodeficiency Virus infection.
How Does HIV Affect The Human Immune system?
HIV is transmitted through contact with infected body fluids such as blood, sexual secretions and breast milk. Over time, the virus attacks the body’s immune system. This virus focuses on killing the special immunity cells called CD4 cells which are crucial in fighting infections and certain types of cancers. This leads to a reduction of these cells in the body. Eventually, the numbers of these cells will go down to levels where the body can no longer be in a position to fight some types of cancers and infections. AIDS is the most advanced stage of HIV infection.
The Human Immunodeficiency Virus is a small virus which contains RNA or ribonucleic acid and its genetic material. When the virus infects human cells, it uses special enzymes to turn its RNA into DNA. When the virus is reproducing, it makes small mistakes which results in variations. These variations are what make it difficult for the immunologic defenses to eliminate it. This is what results in the lifelong infection. The mutation and the variation is also the reason why there is antiretroviral medicine resistance that complicates treatment.
History Of AIDS
There have been careful investigations that have traced the HIV virus in Africa. Scientists believe that it spread from non-human primates to humans back in the early 20th century. This is possibly when humans came into contact with infected blood from a chimpanzee. By testing stored blood samples, there is evidence of humans being infected as early as 1959.
Once in humans, the virus spread through sex from one person to the other. Infected people moved from place to place and this virus spread from the African continent to other continents in the world. In 1981, doctors realized that there were many young men dying of unusual infections and some cancers. The initial victims in the US were mostly gay men because the virus entered the country through this population. It is also because the virus is easily transmitted through anal sex. It is important to note that the virus also easily spreads through heterosexual intercourse.
Africa remains the center of the AIDS pandemic where most cases involve heterosexual intercourse. When news that Magic Johnson had HIV through heterosexual intercourse broke out in 1991, the population started realizing that the infection was not only for homosexual men.
Signs and Symptoms Of AIDS
AIDS is not particularly a disease but it is the most advanced stage of the HIV infection. A person with AIDS will often develop signs and symptoms of infections or some cancers because of the destruction of CD4 cells. Some of the most common infections include tuberculosis. Some people with AIDS will develop pneumonia symptoms as a result of pneumocystis jiroveci. This is rare in people with healthy immune systems. Other symptoms may include seizures, weakness and changes in mental health because of a parasite that affects the brain. Since most of the infections that affect people with AIDS take advantage of the weak immunity, we call them opportunistic infections.
The weak immune system associated with the HIV infection leads to unusual cancers like Kaposi’s sarcoma which can be present in the respiratory tract, intestine, or mouth. Scientists also associate AIDS to lymphoma which is a cancer that involves white blood cells.
AIDS Risk Factors
People who are at risk of developing AIDS are those living with HIV. The risk of getting HIV is increased by behaviors that put you at risk of being in contact with body fluids of a person who is infected. The behaviors include unprotected sex and sharing needles and syringes when injecting drugs. Risk of HIV developing to AIDS increases with the time a person has had HIV. There are people who develop it in the first year of infection; some take 10 years while some live for decades before AIDS develops. The risk of developing a complication that defines AIDS is linked to the drop of CD4 cells to 200 cells/ul
The use of antiretroviral therapy reduces the chances of HIV developing into Acquired immunodeficiency syndrome. The proper use of ART ensures that HIV remains a chronic disease that never progresses to the riskier stage. Not taking the medicines properly leads to drug resistance and complications.
To diagnose AIDS, a doctor will first need to confirm HIV infection and evidence of an AIDS-defining condition/They could also use the CD4 cells count.
There are different antiretroviral medications that can be used to treat HIV. When these medicines are used in a combination, they form an effective suppression method that reduces the virus in the body. Keep in mind that there is still no cure for HIV and the ART will only suppress the virus and not completely eliminate it from the body. There are, however, many trials and research processes that are working on cures and vaccines.