AIDS is an acronym for ‘Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome. It is normal for people suffer from immunity disorder which is within their body, and when their own defense system attacks the cells then this condition is known as AUTO IMMUNITY DISORDER.
But in AIDS the deficiency in protecting the body from infections is acquired from an ‘outside source’. Hence the phrase, ‘ACQUIRED IMMUNE DEFICIENCY SYNDROME’. There are different ways through which this condition is passed from one human to another.
AIDS is caused by a virus called HIV [Human Immunodeficiency Virus]. Both the virus and the disease are together referred to as HIV/AIDS.
What is the origin of AIDS?
There are many stories about where and how AIDS originated. One story says AIDS originated in Africa in the 1930s when some men ate chimpanzee meat which was contaminated whilst another theory states that it spread through sexual contact between humans and chimpanzees who carry the Simian Immunodeficiency Virus [SIV] which is identical to HIV. Another theory states that the infection may have spread in the process of developing Polio vaccine using monkeys and chimp’s livers and which was purposely injected into humans to check the efficiency of the vaccine. So we can safely assume that the actual cause and spread of HIV/AIDS is still not known. There are many stories which say that Africans were dying from HIV/AIDS in the 1950s, but the first detected case and subsequent death was reported in the US in the 1980s.
What are the causes of AIDS?
HIV is the cause which results in AIDS. As the origin of HIV/AIDS is still a mystery, most of the causes can be attributed to the following:
HIV is present in human fluids like: Blood, vaginal Fluids, semen, anal fluids, breast milk, saliva and infected needles.
HIV can spread through an infected person to another healthy person by sexual contact and having sex with multiple partners without protection.
HIV/AIDS also spreads by using of contaminated needles repeatedly by drug addicts who inject drugs intravenously.
HIV/AIDS can also pass on genetically from an infected mother to the unborn child when in the womb and by breast feeding also.
One full cup of Saliva of an infected person is likely to pass on the virus.
HIV which leads to AIDS can easily pass on to a healthy person through contaminated blood transfusion when blood is given without proper screening for presence of HIV to a person who needs it in case of blood loss.
What happens when one is infected with HIV/AIDS?
HIV is the cause of which AIDS is the effect. When a person is infected with the HIV then after some time it develops into full blown AIDS. Whatever may be the cause, when a person is infected or he thinks that he is likely to be infected by any one of the reasons stated above then he or she is likely to develop flu like symptoms that lasts for a week while some of them may not display any symptoms at all. People infected with HIV may also live a healthy life without knowing that they have contacted the VIRUS. AIDS is the full blown result of HIV and which slowly leads to the formation of diseases like TB, pneumonia, heart stroke and certain cancers. In fact, the immune system or the defense system of the body fails and infections overtake, ultimately leading to death.
How does HIV/AIDS spread? What are the risk factors?
There are certain parameters by which HIV/AIDS can be determined:
Firstly, The HIV cannot reproduce itself outside. It is essentially passed through:
Sexual Contact: HIV mainly spreads by having unprotected sex, ie not using a condom whilst having sex with one or more partners, the partners may be men and women and men and men. The risk is higher in case of Anal sex and more so among men rather than Man and Woman.
Multiple Sex Partners: The risk is much higher in having sex with partner or partners who already are infected with STD [Sexually Transmitted Disease]. Having unprotected Oral sex is also risky but the risk is lesser compared to anal and vaginal unprotected sex.
Needles and Syringes: Using and sharing of non sterile syringes for injections and particularly the ones used by drug addicts who usually share such needles.
Mother to Child: It is most likely that if the mother has HIV then the she can pass it on to her unborn child during pregnancy, birth and breast feeding.
Blood Transfusion: Is also a cause for spreading the HIV virus if the same is done without adequate screening and passing through stringent tests for the presence of HIV and other diseases.
What are the less likely modes of transmission of HIV/AIDS?
Awareness has made it possible to minimize the risk of contracting HIV. But the less risky modes are:
Touching, hugging and kissing do not pass on the virus.
Passing on pre chewed food to an infant does not pass on the infection unless the caregiver is infected and the food is mixed with blood.
Visit to the dentist and the parlor and use of infected syringes is risky but extra care and following of strict standards of hygiene minimize the risk.
Modes like using the same toilet, deep kissing, being bitten by an infected person, tattooing, ear piercing, contact between broken skin and cuts and wounds are risky but there have been no reported cases of HIV/AIDS through these modes and they are still a MYTH.
How is HIV/AIDS diagnosed?
HIV is likely to infect a person if at any time they have exposed themselves to the factors essentially leading to the transmission of HIV from an infected person by any of the causes listed above and they should approach a doctor immediately. There are Special centers set up to conduct tests to detect:
Presence of antibodies in the blood and saliva.
No tests may be accurate immediately after the infection as the antibodies take time to develop, say, a period of 12 weeks.
So another test is taken to determine the presence of antibodies when it takes a longer time, say 6 months, for the infection to spread.
A new type of test for HIV checks for a certain Protein called Antigens produced by the virus soon after infection and which confirms diagnosis within a few days.
How are the stages determined in HIV/AIDS?
To determine the stage of the infection, following tests are conducted:
CD4 count: CD4 are type of white blood cells [WBC]. As we all know that WBC are the soldiers in our body which fight infections. HIV detects these cells and targets them and destroys them thus destroying the capacity of the human body to fight infections. A healthy persons CD4 count if 500-1000 and even if an infected person is healthy with no symptoms the CD4 count falls to 200 and HIV infection can be termed as full blown AIDS.
Viral Load: This test is conducted to check the amount of virus in the blood. The more the count of Virus the more the person is likely to fare poorly and less the count of virus then the person is at an early stage.
Drug Resistance: This type of test determines whether the HIV strains have become resistant to the drugs or will not respond to certain anti-HIV medications which will determine the stage of infection.
Other Complications like tuberculosis, hepatitis, pneumonia, kidney and liver damage, sexually transmitted infections and urinary tract infection.
The presence and severity of the above conditions determine whether HIV has progressed into AIDS and its stage.
Is there any cure or treatment for HIV/AIDS ?
Alas, unfortunately HIV/AIDS has no cure but there is a combination of drugs and medications which when used can reduce or limit the spread and damage to the body. A Combination of three Drugs are used to combat strains of HIV which may be unresponsive to a single drug.
Treatment should be started early as medication is most beneficial in early stage and it involves taking of medicine and drugs for a lifetime. And if one is in the risk factor group then they should look out for the signs and consult a doctor immediately and thus minimize and prevent its spread to others also.
Can HIV/AIDS be prevented?
Yes HIV/AIDS can be prevented as they are ‘Acquired’ which means from an outside source. One can observe the following steps for prevention of HIV/AIDS:
Avoid having sex with multiple partners [men and women alike]. Always use condoms during sex as it prevents the transmission of infection to a large extent.
If one is used to taking drugs then leave the habit. Do not use it intravenously. Injecting by syringes which are often shared by many drug users may be contaminated. Use a new syringe.
Mother to child HIV transmission can be prevented if the mother is given anti-HIV injections and can also be prevented by using formula milk instead of breastfeeding or any other source of feeding.
Blood transfusion if done by adopting strict rules of screening can prevent the risk of infection and also by not coming in contact with infected blood if one has open cuts and wounds.
Prevention is always better than cure and in case of HIV/AIDS it is rightly so.
A reported famous case of a celebrity having HIV/AIDS.
Rock Hudson was a legendary American Film and TV actor, who was diagnosed with HIV/AIDS in June 1984. Rock Hudson thought that his condition might be due to the blood transfusion he had when he underwent a heart bypass surgery. He died from the symptoms of AIDS IN 1985. His death had a positive impact on the emergence of HIV/AIDS and since then great efforts have been made in medical research about the cause, effect and prevention and the line of treatment for this life taking condition. But still no cure has been found, only that early detection and certain anti -HIV medications can help the affected person to live a healthy life for some years.