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HIV/AIDS by Daniela Doksani

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HIV (human immunodeficiency virus) is the virus that causes AIDS (acquired immunodeficiency syndrome.) As the name implies HIV weakens the immune system, makes it deficient. AIDS-the disease it causes, is life threatening as the body becomes very susceptible to microorganisms and infections that would not harm a healthy person, but could be deadly for an HIV victim. There is no cure for AIDS. There are medications that delay the onset of symptoms and the manifestation of disease, but no permanent cure that would get rid of the virus and there are no preventing vaccines.

HIV is found in the bodily fluids like blood, semen and vaginal fluids of an infected person. Infection occurs when these fluids enter another person’s body through sexual contact, blood transfusion or organ transplants(very rare in the united states now), sharing needles or being accidentally struck by an infected needle, mother to child during pregnancy, childbirth or breast-feeding. During sexual contact the virus may enter through a cut or tear in the lining of vagina, rectum, urethra or mouth. When outside the body the virus loses its infectious abilities, does not survive well in the environment. It cannot be acquired from the environment or casual contact, such as hugs and casual kisses, sharing the same drinking or eating utensils, toilet seat, insect bites or by contact with saliva, tears, sweat and feces of the infected person.

The majority of people once infected develop flu like symptoms within a month or two. This is the primary or acute phase. Symptoms include headache, sore throat, fever, rashes, sweats, swollen lymph nodes and last for a few weeks. Some people do not experience these symptoms or they can be very mild and the infection goes unnoticed, but they are very infectious themselves because the viral load is extremely high during this time.

The chronic stage goes without symptoms as the virus is multiplying and infecting white blood cells. The person seems healthy. Some might experience swollen lymph nodes. This stage lasts typically 8-10 years. Some people develop the disease much sooner, while others much later. The cause is unknown.

The last stage of HIV infection manifests these symptoms: high fevers, fatigue, swollen lymph nodes, diarrhea, weight loss, night sweats. As the immune system gets tired of fighting HIV and white blood cells numbers have gone below 200/mm³, the condition progresses to AIDS. Opportunistic infections start to develop. Those are infections caused by microorganisms that can be part of the body’s normal flora, can be found in the air or the environment and would do no harm to a healthy person with a strong immune system.

The reason why AIDS is so deadly is because it attacks the immune system and has a very high mutation rate, keeping this way a step ahead of the immune system. HIV destroys CD4-T or helper-T cells, which play a crucial role in the immune response to invaders. They do their job by communicating with other immune system cells. Once their numbers are very low, the immune system is almost destroyed and AIDS develops. So, the body becomes prone to other infections, cancers and medical conditions because it has no defense.

Drugs that are used to control the virus combine drugs from different classes so that the virus will not create immune strains. They work mostly by disabling virus proteins. Protease inhibitors, integrase inhibitors, non nucleoside reverse transcriptase inhibitors are some examples.


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