What is AIDS?
Acquired It is not innate, it is not self-germinating, and it is not based on a person’s status, personality, sexual orientation or economic class. It is a communicable (or transmissible) illness, and it is acquired through specific behaviors or processes. There is a specific causal agent, and it doesn’t discriminate—it can be acquired by anyone as a result of his/her behavior.
Immune It is a disease of the immune system, and it impacts how the immune system functions. The immune system is the body’s defense against illness and disease. Skin is our main external immune defense; internally, our main interior immune defense is our white blood cells. Our immune system:
Deficiency Persons with AIDS have an immune deficiency. This means they lack sufficient immune response. Persons with AIDS may lack all three levels of immune response.
AIDS is characterized by a syndrome. A syndrome is a group of illnesses
or symptoms. AIDS, rather than being characterized by specific symptoms,
is characterized by a syndrome of specific illnesses/diseases. These
diseases are called Opportunistic Infections.
Human It is a human virus, it is transmitted from person to person, and it causes clinical disease and “full blown” AIDS only in humans. Animals do not give it to humans; humans do not give it to animals.
Immunodeficiency The virus causes immune deficiency in those it infects.
Virus The causal agent of AIDS is a virus. A virus is the smallest known disease causing agent—it is about 1/1000th the size of a blood cell. A virus is much smaller than bacteria and parasites. Viruses are the causal agents we know least about, and viruses also mutate very quickly.
“Necessary but not Sufficient”
Not everyone living with HIV will progress to AIDS. There is no causal agent known that causes disease in 100% of the people it infects. HIV is necessary—but not sufficient by itself—to cause progression to “full blown” AIDS.
Progression of the illness may take many years, and people usually live with HIV for years with no signs/symptoms of the disease.
It is inaccurate to refer to having HIV as definitely a death sentence.
How HIV Works
HIV replicates itself by using the cells in your immune system. The main target of HIV is a subset of white blood cells known as T-cells. The specific T-cells it targets are CD-4 cells. Here’s what happens...
HIV bonds with T-cells and releases its genetic material (RNA) into the core of the CD-4 cell.
Inside the cell, through a process called reverse transcriptase, HIV genetic material is converted into DNA. The new DNA imprints itself onto the nucleus of the cell. The CD-4 cell begins replicating HIV through normal genetic transcription (DNA into RNA). HIV spores begin to bud on the cell membrane, and then break away from the cell. The CD-4 cell membrane weakens and bursts, and the cell dies.
Free floating HIV are released into the bloodstream and attach to other cells. Continued replication causes the ongoing death of CD-4 cells. CD-4 cell count continues to drop.
When a person’s cell count drops below 200 per cubic millimeter they are diagnosed with AIDS. A person can also get an AIDS diagnosis if they are HIV-positive and have any of the following “opportunistic infections”: Kaposi’s sarcoma, Cytomegalovirus, Pneumoncystis Carinii Pneumonia (PCP), Toxoplasmosis Encephalitis, or Cryptosporidiosis.
Even if a person’s cell count bounces back up above 200, or they beat an opportunistic infection, they are still considered to have AIDS.
all of these cofactors—along with others such as exercise, the
environment where a person lives, an individual’s age, or their
ability to access/afford the health care system—can influence
a disease progression.
HIV Disease Continuum
Initial Infection occurs when the virus enters the blood stream and takes hold. This is often associated with mono-like symptoms. Once infected, a person is infected forever.
Asymptomatic HIV infection is when the person is infected, but shows no obvious signs or symptoms of the illness. HIV has a median asymptomatic (latency) phase of about 10 years.
Even prior to a diagnosis of AIDS, a person living with HIV may develop several kinds of generalized symptoms. These symptoms are not otherwise associated with other potential illnesses. These symptoms include:
AIDS is the end stage of HIV disease. This occurs when an individual is HIV+ and begins experiencing opportunistic infections associated with an AIDS diagnosis or when his/her CD4 white blood cell count drops below 200/mm³. (Individuals may progress to full-blown AIDS without having “generalized” symptomatic HIV symptoms.)
It should be noted that once someone has received an AIDS diagnosis, it remains with them for life. Even if they beat an opportunistic infection, their CD4 count goes back up over 200, and their viral load becomes undetectable, they are considered to have AIDS.
There are currently about 28 official opportunistic infections associated with AIDS, as defined by the Center for Disease Control. Some of the more common include:
Carinii Pneumonia (PCP)
do you prevent it?
Also, if you are injecting drugs, do not share your needles or works with others. You should always clean your gear, and you can get new needles from the needle exchange. Sharing needles is also the easiest way to spread hepatitis C - which can live in your works even after you’ve cleaned them. If you are HIV-positive, that increases your chance of hep C infection. That is why it is so important to not share.
|This site contains HIV prevention messages that may not be appropriate for all audiences. If you are not seeking such information, or may be offended by such materials, please exit this website.|