Essay on AIDS

Acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS) is a fatal disease in which the immune system is weakened by the human immunodeficiency virus or HIV. A healthy immune system fights off infections and certain diseases. HIV is a serious virus that slowly kills or damages immune system cells and can eventually develop into aids. AIDS is not a single disease; it covers a wide range of symptoms and illnesses that can occur when HIV becomes advanced enough to severely deplete the immune system. People who have AIDS can develop a variety of life-threatening illnesses.

AIDS was first recognized in the United States in 1981 and is now considered a worldwide epidemic. Anyone can get AIDS. In the United States, it is considered one of the most devastating public health problems in recent history. In 1998, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimated that 650,000 to 950,000 Americans were living with an HIV infection (this is called being HIV-positive). Half are 25 years of age or younger. CDC also estimated that 297,137 people in the United States were living with AIDS in 1998; this was a 10% increase from the same figure for 1997. In the United States, AIDS is now the fifth leading cause of death among people aged 25 to 44. Worldwide, CDC estimated that at the end of 1998, 33.4 million people (32.2 million adults and 1.2 million children) were living with HIV or AIDS. Approximately one in every 100 people aged 15-49 are infected with HIV. During 1998 alone, approximately 5.8 million people, mostly those living in developing countries, were infected with HIV. This means that approximately 16,000 people were infected every day.

Most people who are infected with HIV have no symptoms and do not know that they have the virus. Once they are infected, however, they can infect other people. People can get HIV through sexual contact, direct contact with the blood of an infected person, mother to child, and blood transfusions. The virus is usually spread by sexual contact with an infected partner. The most common form of direct blood contact is sharing needles, for example, drugs, tattooing, and piercing. A mother with HIV can spread the infection to her child during pregnancy, birth, or while breastfeeding. The risk of becoming infected through a blood transfusion is very low since all blood and blood products are now tested for HIV antibodies. Health care professionals who work with body fluids can also become infected, although the risk is low (less than 0.3 per cent). HIV is not spread by casual contacts such as kissing, sharing objects in the house, public toilets, water fountains, swimming pools, or bugs.

HIV destroys white blood cells called CD4 (T cell lymphocytes that normally fight off attacks by bacteria, viruses, and other germs). Healthy people have CD4 cell counts that range from 500 to 1800. CDC defines AIDS as being present in people who are infected with HIV whose CD4 count falls below 200. CDC also uses 26 clinical conditions that affect people with advanced HIV disease to define AIDS. People who are infected with HIV usually experience a gradual decline in the number of CD4 cells, although, in some people, this can happen suddenly. People with CD4 counts above 200 may have early symptoms of HIV disease, and people with CD4 counts below 200 may not have any symptoms.

Testing for HIV infection is done in most doctors’ offices or health clinics. HIV infection is diagnosed through a blood test called the EHSA (enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay) which detects HIV antibodies. This can only be done 3 to 6 months after suspected exposure to HIV because it takes time for the body to develop HIV antibodies. If this test shows that the person is HIV-positive, an HIV RNA blood test can be done to measure the amount of HIV in his/her blood. For most people with HIV infection, the time between exposure to the virus and the progression to Aids is 10 to 12 years.

HIV/AIDS and related illness are different for each person. The course of the disease, however, generally progresses through three stages: acute retroviral syndrome, latency (when the disease is silent), and late-stage AIDS. The first stage of AIDS is usually acute retroviral syndrome. Possible warning signs of infection with HIV are rapid weight loss; dry cough; fever or night sweats that happen again and again; lasting fatigue with no known cause; swollen lymph glands in the armpits, groin, or neck; diarrhoea that lasts for more than a week; white spots or marks on the tongue, mouth, or throat; pneumonia; red, brown, or purplish blotches on or under the skin or inside the mouth, nose, or eyelids; and memory loss, depression, or other neurological disorders.

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Many people with HIV that has progressed to AIDS cannot work steadily or do chores around the house because the symptoms are so severe. Other people with AIDS may go through periods of life-threatening illness followed by normal functioning. AIDS is usually marked by a sharp decline in the number of CD4+ lymphocytes (a type of immune system cell), followed by a rise in infections and cancers. Once the patient’s CD4+ lymphocyte count falls below 200 cells/mm3, the risk for opportunistic infections, which develop because the weakened immune system gives them the opportunity to develop, increases sharply.

There is no cure for AIDS, which is a lifelong illness. Thanks to new and effective treatments, however, people with HIV/AIDS are living longer, healthier lives. People with HIV/AIDS should go to a doctor who knows how to treat this disease. Antiretroviral drugs are used to fight HIV infection. A combination of these drugs is usually used to make treatment more effective and limit the risk of developing drug-resistant HIV. They do not, however, prevent people with HIV from spreading the virus to others. More than 22 drugs are available to treat AIDS-related conditions such as opportunistic infections and Kaposi’s sarcoma. People with CD4 counts below 200 are also given treatment to prevent Pneumocystic carinnin pneumonia, one of the most common and deadly opportunistic infections associated with HIV. AIDS-related problems in the central nervous system are usually treated with radiation therapy. Cancers elsewhere in the body are treated with chemotherapy.

No one knows where HIV came from. Scientists are continually doing more research to learn more about HIV and AIDS. Their discoveries help people learn how to stop the spread of the virus and how to help people who are infected with HIV live longer, healthier lives. Researchers supported by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases are researching vaccines and new therapies for HIV and conditions associated with the infection. More than a dozen HIV vaccines are being tested in people, and many drugs for HIV infection or opportunistic infections associated with AIDS are either in development or being tested. Researchers are also trying to discover how HIV damages the immune system.

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