AIDS, which stands for Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome, is a human disease caused by HIV, the human immunodeficiency virus. In this disease, the immune system gradually becomes less effective, which leads to more and more opportunistic infections and tumors. It is transmitted when a bodily fluid, for example blood, semen, or breast milk, of an infected individual comes into direct contact with a mucous membrane or blood stream of another individual. Although most commonly thought of as a sexually transmitted disease, it can be transmitted through several kinds of exposure to infected bodily fluids, such as a blood transfusion or the use of infected hypodermic needles. It can also be passed from mother to child during pregnancy, during childbirth, and through breastfeeding. AIDS was first recognized in the 1980s and is now a pandemic, affecting over 33 million people around the world. Each year, over 2 million people die from the disease. The majority of cases and deaths occur in sub-Saharan Africa, where the disease originated, and where poor economic conditions and limited sex education have exacerbated the pandemic. There is currently no vaccine or cure for HIV or AIDS, though treatments have been developed which can slow the disease's course. The most effective treatments are intensive and expensive, and thus access to them is limited in many parts of the world. Because of this, the most important aspect of fighting the AIDS pandemic is prevention, by educating individuals about the disease, encouraging them to practice safe sex, and providing them with clean needles if they are drug users. AIDS is a medical condition. A person is diagnosed with AIDS when their immune system is too weak to fight off infections. Since AIDS was first identified in the early 1980s, an unprecedented number of people have been affected by the global AIDS epidemic. Today, there are an estimated 33.3 million people living with HIV and AIDS worldwide. What causes AIDS?
AIDS is caused by HIV. HIV is a virus that gradually attacks immune system cells. As HIV progressively damages these cells, the body becomes more vulnerable to infections, which it will have difficulty in fighting off. It is at the point of very advanced HIV infection that a person is said to have AIDS. It can be years before HIV has damaged the immune system enough for AIDS to develop. What are the symptoms of AIDS?
A person is diagnosed with AIDS when they have developed an AIDS related condition or symptom, called an opportunistic infection, or an AIDS related cancer. The infections are called ‘opportunistic’ because they take advantage of the opportunity offered by a weakened immune system. It is possible for someone to be diagnosed with AIDS even if they have not developed an opportunistic infection. AIDS can be diagnosed when the number of immune system cells (CD4 cells) in the blood of an HIV positive person drops below a certain level.
Is there a cure for AIDS?
Worryingly, many people think there is a 'cure' for AIDS - which makes them feel safer, and perhaps take risks that they otherwise wouldn't. However, there is still no cure for AIDS. The only way to stay safe is to be aware of how HIV is transmitted and how to prevent HIV infection. How many people have died from AIDS?
Since the first cases of AIDS were identified in 1981, more than 25 million people have died from AIDS. An estimated 1.8 million people died as a result of AIDS in 2009 alone. Although there is no cure for AIDS, HIV infection can be prevented, and those living with HIV can take antiretroviral drugs to delay the onset of AIDS. However, in many countries across the world access to prevention and treatment services is limited. Global leaders have pledged to work towards universal access to HIV prevention and care, so that millions of deaths can be averted. How is AIDS treated?
A community health worker gives an HIV positive patient antiretroviral drugs, Kenya A community health...