Understanding HIV & AIDS
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Understanding HIV and AIDs is vital in preventing them from greeting you at your doorstep. Find out more about the risks and concerns involving HIV and AIDS by taking a look at this video.
Transcript: AIDS is a disease that represents the final stages of infection with an incurable virus known as the...
AIDS is a disease that represents the final stages of infection with an incurable virus known as the human immunodeficiency virus, or HIV. To understand how AIDS works, it helps to have a grasp of HIV. Simply put, HIV attacks and destroys cells in the immune system, much as an invading army might destroy a high wall that protects a city. With a weakened immune system, a person becomes less able to fight off infections, as an army would have trouble defending a city without a protective wall. Before HIV can attack, it has to get in. HIV lives in bodily fluids like semen, vaginal secretions, blood, and breast milk. A person who carries HIV can pass it to another through any of these, usually via sexual intercourse, breastfeeding, or the sharing of drug paraphernalia. Rarely, a person will contract HIV through blood transfusions. And while it is highly unlikely for people to acquire HIV through saliva, it is possible to pass it through oral sex. Once the virus is transferred, it attaches to its new host body's sex, or T-cells, which are integral parts of the immune system. Inside the T-cell, HIV literally changes to become part of the body's DNA, or genetic code. At this point, the body will be forced to produce the virus. Because HIV lives in the immune system, every time a foreign invader triggers this system to work, HIV is activated, too. This means that when "good" T-cells fight, for example, the flu virus, new HIV particles are formed. During the first days and weeks after a person is infected with HIV, he or she may experience flu-like symptoms, such as a fever, fatigue, and enlarged lymph nodes. These symptoms generally disappear without treatment. But, as the body is forced to create new HIV cells, the immune system gets weaker, a progression that can take from several months to more than ten years. Eventually, untreated HIV leads to acquired immune deficiency syndrome, or AIDS. The name is appropriate: Acquired means to obtain an infection. Immune deficiency refers to weakness in the immune system, and syndrome is a group of problems that comprise a disease. AIDS is generally diagnosed by a blood or saliva test that measures the T-cells in a person's body. If the count drops below 200/mm3, the immune system is seriously damaged and unable to fight infections properly. A diagnosis of AIDS also occurs if a person gets one of 26 opportunistic infections, which are conditions common in advanced HIV patients, but rarely found in people with intact immune systems. Most people who die of AIDS do so from one of these infections. But while there is no cure for the disease, the introduction of highly active antiretroviral therapy has caused the number of AIDS-related deaths to decrease significantly. Over one million Americans are infected with HIV. Because 300, 000 people are still unaware of their HIV infection, getting tested and making sure you know your partner's status is essential.More »
Last Modified: 2013-10-21 | Tags »
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