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HIV and AIDS explained in a simple way

Acquired immunodeficiency syndrome or Acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS) is a syndrome caused by a virus called HIV.

  • Acquired means that people are not born with the disease. They get it after being infected with the HIV virus.
  • Immune or Immuno- talks about the immune system. The immune system is the part of the body that fights off disease.
  • Deficiency means not enough. An immuno-deficiency is a problem where the immune system is damaged and cannot fight off diseases to keep the body healthy.
  • Syndrome is a collection of symptoms, or problems in the body. Because the immune system is damaged, and cannot fight off disease, people with AIDS get a collection of symptoms which is referred to as the "Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome."

How many people have AIDS?

As of 2009, it is estimated that there are 33.3 million people worldwide infected with HIV.[1] The HIV pandemic is most severe in Sub-Saharan Africa. Over 60% of all people with HIV live in the region.

Many people with HIV do not know they have it. Because of this, the exact number of people with HIV is unknown.

Where HIV started

Scientists believe the first human who got HIV was a person in Africa. This happened when Simian Immunodeficiency Virus (SIV) went from apes or chimpanzees to humans. This virus probably crossed to humans by contact with monkey blood while cutting up monkeys to eat.[2] Research in October 2014 shows that the virus started in Kinshasa during the 1920s.[2] It was quickly spread by sex workers, dirty needles used by doctors, and people using the railway to travel around the country.[2] Some people described the spread of the disease as a sexidemic (widespread).[3]

HIV and AIDS

Not everyone who has HIV has AIDS. When people first get HIV, they can be healthy for years. A person is diagnosed as having AIDS when he or she gets specific types of illnesses or gets sick in certain ways due to their HIV. Once a person's HIV progresses to (or turns into) AIDS, the person will continue to have AIDS for the rest of their life. While there are many treatments for HIV/AIDS, at this point there is no cure.

If someone has HIV they are called HIV-positive.

Someone has AIDS if they have HIV and either:

AIDS-defining illnesses

If a person gets an "AIDS-defining illness," this is usually a sign that the person has AIDS. Healthy people do not get these illnesses, because a healthy immune system is strong enough to fight off these diseases. Because of this, getting an AIDS-defining illness is a sign that a person's immune system is seriously damaged. In a person with HIV, getting an AIDS-defining illness signals that the HIV has damaged the immune system badly enough that the person now has AIDS.

Some AIDS defining illnesses are:

How is HIV spread?

HIV can be spread by some body fluids that have HIV in them:[4]

  • Blood
  • Semen
  • Fluids from a woman's vagina
  • Fluids from the rectum
  • Breast milk
  • From infected mother to child during pregnancy (Transplacental).

This means a person can get HIV by:[4]

How is HIV not spread?

HIV is NOT spread by:[4]

  • Body fluids like saliva (spit), tears, or sweat
  • Touching a person with HIV (like shaking hands or hugging)
  • Sharing dishes or drinking from the same glass as someone with HIV
  • Light switches or toilet seats
  • Drinking fountains
  • Air or water
  • Insects, like mosquitoes

Treatment of HIV and AIDS

There are medicines that help people with AIDS. These are called antiretroviral medicines (or antiretrovirals.) Anti- means against. HIV is a retrovirus. So antiretroviral means it fights retroviruses.

Antiretrovirals cannot cure AIDS. This means they cannot make all of the virus leave a person's body. But they can make people with AIDS more healthy. Antiretrovirals help people fight the HIV virus. This makes their immune systems work better. So antiretrovirals are a treatment but not a cure for HIV.

People with HIV/AIDS who take antiretroviral medicines live longer. They live longer without getting AIDS defining illnesses. But after a long time, the HIV virus learns how to fight the antiretrovirals. The HIV virus is not killed by this medicine. HIV becomes resistant to the medicine. Then the resistant HIV hurts the immune system and the person may get AIDS.

Sometimes when HIV is resistant to one medicine, another medicine can be used. To make less resistance happen, people with AIDS take more than one medicine at the same time. They may take 2–4 medicines at once. This is sometimes called a cocktail or AIDS cocktail.

When HIV gets resistant to one medicine, this is changed to another medicine. So the AIDS cocktail that people with AIDS take changes over time. But after a long time, the HIV learns to be resistant to many drugs. This is called multi-drug-resistant (acronym MDR) HIV. After the HIV in a person has MDR-HIV there may be no more medicines to treat them. So scientists keep trying to find new medicines to fight HIV. The five most important HIV medicines are:

  • D4T (stavudine)
  • 3TC (Lamivudine)
  • NVP (nevirapine)
  • AZT (zidovudine)
  • EFZ (efavirenz)

HIV orphans

Percent of people with HIV in Africa in 1999–2001

Many people who die of AIDS, especially in Africa, leave behind children who are still alive, and may need help. These children are called AIDS orphans.

Ways to stop AIDS

There are many ways people fight the AIDS epidemic.

Education

The most important way to stop HIV/AIDS is education. People can get HIV from the exchange of bodily fluids and from sharing needles. Children can also get HIV from their mothers (when they grow inside pregnant mothers and when they drink breast milk.) Sex is one way to get HIV. If people use condoms when they have sex, there is a much smaller chance of catching HIV.

A person can also get HIV by sharing needles. This means using a needle that has not been cleaned after someone else has used it. Some people who take illegal drugs like heroin and cocaine take these drugs by needle. Some of these people share needles. If one person has HIV and he shares his needles, he can give HIV to other people. But if people have clean needles or if they know how to clean needles, they do not get HIV as much.

Many people do not know that condoms and clean needles help stop HIV. They may not even know that sharing needles and sex with someone who has HIV can make them get HIV. Even if people know about condoms and clean needles, they may not have condoms and clean needles.

Safe sex and needle exchange

There are some people who do not want people to know about condoms or clean needles. They believe that if people know about condoms and have condoms they will have more sex. They believe that if people have clean needles they will use illegal drugs more. Many of these people think this because of their religion. For example, the Catholic church does not want people to have or use condoms.[5] They do not want people to have condoms because they do not think people should have sex unless they are married. They also think that married people should not use condoms, because they believe that if people have sex, they should be prepared to accept a possible pregnancy.

Scientists who study (look at and learn about) people who use condoms, see that if teenagers (children 13–19) learn about condoms (and other birth control) they have less unsafe sex. Scientists see that learning about these things does not make teenagers start having sex earlier. The teenagers also have safer sex. Safer sex means doing things (like wearing condoms) to try not to get pregnant or get sexually transmitted diseases (STDs or STIs) like HIV, gonorrhea, and syphilis. Using a condom works very well for keeping people from getting pregnant or getting STDs if people know how to use a condom the right way.[1] [2]

Scientists have also learned that if a city has a needle exchange program it will have fewer people who use illegal drugs. Needle exchange programs are where people can come in and trade dirty needles for clean needles. This means that if they use drugs they will be more safe. But needle exchange programs do more than give people clean needles. They teach people about drugs. If people want to stop using drugs, they help them.

HIV vaccine

The best way to stop HIV is thought to be a vaccine. There is no vaccine for HIV yet. Many scientists are looking for an HIV vaccine. Even one that protected some people from HIV would save millions of people's lives.


References

  1. 2.0 2.1 2.2 Aids: Origin of pandemic 'was 1920s Kinshasa': BBC News - Aids: Origin of pandemic 'was 1920s Kinshasa'
  2. Sontag, Susan. "From: AIDS and its Metaphors 1989." (2003): 127-135.
  3. 4.0 4.1 4.2

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