Hiv Aids

HIV and AIDS Image

In 1981 a group of unusual diseases and rare cancers were detected in some people that signaled the discovery of a new sexually transmitted disease: HIV/AIDS (Human Immunodeficiency Virus/Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome). Initially, HIV/AIDS was thought to be a disease that primarily afflicted homosexual males, an error that led many heterosexuals to believe AIDS was a “gay problem.”

Today, we know that HIV/AIDS affects both genders and all sexual orientations. Globally, over 39.4 million people have AIDS, with almost five million new cases of HIV reported annually. Adult cases of HIV/AIDS are divided equally between the sexes.

HIV Transmission

While HIV is usually transmitted through sexual contact, the disease has other methods of transmission. The virus is present in the blood, vaginal secretions, genital fluids, and semen of infected individuals. Transmission of HIV can occur through:

  • vaginal, anal or oral sex
  • needles used for drug abuse, homemade tattoos, body piercing or blood transfusions
  • childbirth
  • breastfeeding.

Although blood transfusions can also transmit HIV, modern safeguards make the transmission of HIV through donated blood a rare occurrence. A person infected with HIV is said to be “HIV positive.”

HIV/AIDS Progression

Once HIV enters the body, the virus begins to replicate, infecting and killing immune system cells. The primary targets of HIV are white blood cells called CD4 lymphocytes or “T cells.”

A healthy individual has a CD4 count of 600 to 1,200 per milligram of blood. Over a period of years, the HIV virus drastically lowers the body’s CD4 count. Once the CD4 count drops below 200, the patient is diagnosed with AIDS. When this occurs, the patient’s immune system has been considerably weakened. Consequently, even the most harmless infection becomes life threatening because the patient’s immune system can’t fight it off.

AIDS and HIV are the same disease: AIDS is simply the advanced stage of HIV infection. A person with AIDS has a severely compromised immune system and suffers from symptoms caused by opportunistic infections (an infection that becomes pathogenic only when the immune system is severely compromised) and certain cancers.

Preventing HIV/AIDS

The risk of HIV infection is greatly reduced if condoms are used during sexual activity and if sexual relations are monogamous. IV drug users should avoid sharing needles and should seek counseling for their addictions. Despite popular lore, HIV/AIDS cannot be transmitted through kissing, saliva, holding hands, hugging, or using the same toilet as an infected individual.