Acquired immune deficiency syndrome, or AIDS, is a recently
recognized disease. It is caused by infection with the human
immunodeficiency virus (HIV). AIDS is a complicated illness that may
involve several phases. It is caused by a virus that can be passed from
person to person. AIDS impairs the human body's immune system--the
system is responsible for warding off disease--and leaves the victim
susceptible to various infections.
AIDS was first conclusively identified in the United States in 1981,
when 189 cases were reported to the Centers for Disease Control. Within a
decade the disease had spread to virtually all populated areas of the world.
In the United States alone there are about 65,000 new cases every year. The
origin of the AIDS virus is uncertain, but it may have originated in Central
The first AIDS patients in the Americas and Europe were almost
exclusively male homosexuals. Later patients included those who used
unsterilized intravenous needles to inject drugs; hemophiliacs (persons with a
blood-clotting disorder) and others who had received blood transfusions;
females whose male sexual partners had AIDS; and the children of parents
with AIDS. However since 1989, heterosexual sex was found to be the
fastest growing means of transmission of the virus, with 90 percent of the
new cases coming from heterosexual sex.
How AIDS Is Spread
AIDS is transmitted by direct of the bloodstream with body
fluids that contains the AIDS virus, particularly blood and semen from an
HIV-infected person. The virus is usually transmitted through various forms
of sexual intercourse, the transfusion of virus-contaminated blood, or sharing
in HIV-contaminated intravenous needles.
The AIDS virus cannot enter intact bodily surfaces, such as skin, and
quickly perishes outside the human body. AIDS is not spread by casual
physical or by sneezing. The virus has been found in tears and
saliva, but it is there in such low amounts that transmission from these body
fluids is extremely rare. There are no known cases of AIDS transmission by
insects or by domestic animals. Studies show that the virus is usually passed
to an infant close to or during delivery. Recently infected mothers can
transmit the virus to their kids through breast milk.
Detection and Treatment
Following infection with HIV, an individual may show no symptoms
at all or may develop small illnesses. The period between initial infection
and the development of AIDS is currently varying between six months and
eleven years. Usually, when the AIDS virus enters the bloodstream. the
body's immune system produces antibodies to fight the microorganisms.
Blood tests can detect these antibodies and therefore can show exposure to
the virus. However, these tests sometimes give wrong readings and only
begin giving correct information within two weeks to three months after
infection. Scientists do not know exactly how the AIDS virus damages the
immune system, they also do not understand why the natural antibodies
developed to destroy the virus are not effective.
By 1987 the drug azidothymidine (AZT) had proved effective in
slowing the reproduction of the HIV virus in humans, but it is highly toxic
and cannot be taken by many patients. In 1989 researchers determined that
lower doses of AZT would be effective and less harmful for patients that
have early symptoms of AIDS and for kids with AIDS. Dideoyinsine (DDI)
was approved in the United States in 1991 for the treatment if HIV infection.
This drug is a useful replacement for AZT and is used in kids and other
patients for who AZT is too toxic. In 1992 zalcitabine, or DDC, became the
third approved drug to treat people infected with the AIDS virus. It was,
however, approved for use only in combination with AZT to treat adults with
advanced HIV infection. Several other drugs and treatments have been
approved to treat P. carinii pneumonia, Kaposi's sarcoma, and other AIDS-
related conditions. Several vaccines against AIDS are being developed and
Efforts at Prevention
Since there is no cure for AIDS education and risk reduction remain
the most powerful tool in the fight against AIDS. Because there is only a
few ways of transmitting AIDS, the further spread of AIDS could virtually be
stopped by avoiding behaviors that put a person at risk. Education can help
to achieve this. There are several ways to reduce the spread of AIDS
through sexual . These include practicing abstinence--no sex--or
practicing safe sex. Practicing safe sex means by having sex with one
person in which both people are free of HIV, or using a latex condoms
whenever engaging in sex.
In March 1983 the major U.S. blood-banking organizations started
procedures to reduce the likelihood of HIV transmission by asking people at
increased risk of AIDS to stop donating blood. They expanded screening
procedures so that people with a history if risky behavior or with symptoms
of AIDS could not give blood.
What Happens After Infection
Most people recently infected look and feel healthy. In some people
the virus may remain inactive, and these people are carriers, they seem
healthy but are still able to infect others. After a few years, some people
may develop AIDS-related complex, or ARC. Its symptoms include fever,
fatigue, weight loss, skin rashes, a fungal infection in the mouth known as
thrush , lack of resistance to infections, and swollen lymph nodes.
Sometimes the symptoms disappear, but the illness usually goes on to become
AIDS. Though it may take as much as twenty years for the virus to become
AIDS, the average time is one to two years.
The AIDS virus causes so much damage to the immune system that the
body usually becomes more able to get a variety of infections. Infections
that are harmless to people with normal immune systems but that can be
lethal to those people with the AIDS virus. The average life prospect for an
AIDS victim from the time that symptoms begin to show is one to five years.
Public awareness of this disease gradually built up as more respected
victims began to die: actor Rock Hudson (1985), clothes designer Perry
Ellis (1986), choreographer Michael Bennett (1987), photographer Robert
Mapplethorpe (1989), and Oscar-winning director Tony Richardson (1991).
When basketball superstar Magic Johnson announced in 1991 that he had
gotten the AIDS virus, the feeling spread quick that anyone, not just selected
groups of people, could be at risk.
The only way of stopping this disease is by education. Everyone most
protect themselves and their partners, when having sex, if they do not want to
get HIV. Also remember nothing can make sex 100% safe. The only way
to keep yourself completely safe from AIDS and other STDs in by not having