Human immunodeficiency virus infection / acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (HIV/AIDS) is a disease of the human immune system caused by the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV). During the initial infection a person may experience a brief period of influenza-like illness. This is typically followed by a prolonged period without symptoms. As the illness progresses it interferes more and more with the immune system, making people much more likely to get infections, including opportunistic infections, and tumors that do not usually affect people with working immune systems. HIV is transmitted primarily via unprotected sexual intercourse (including anal and even oral sex), contaminated blood transfusions and hypodermic needles, and from mother to child during pregnancy, delivery, or breastfeeding. Some bodily fluids, such as saliva and tears, do not transmit HIV. Prevention of HIV infection, primarily through safe sex and needle-exchange programs, is a key strategy to control the spread of the disease. There is no cure or vaccine; however, antiretroviral treatment can slow the course of the disease and may lead to a near-normal life expectancy. While antiretroviral treatment reduces the risk of death and complications from the disease, these medications are expensive and may be associated with side effects. Genetic research indicates that HIV originated in West-central Africa during the early twentieth century. AIDS was first recognized by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in 1981 and its cause—HIV infection—was identified in the early part of the decade. Since its discovery, AIDS has caused nearly 30 million deaths (as of 2009). As of 2010, approximately 34 million people have contracted HIV globally. AIDS is considered a pandemic—a disease outbreak which is present over a large area and is actively spreading. HIV/AIDS has had a great impact on society, both as an illness and as a source of discrimination. The disease also has significant economic impacts. There are many misconceptions about HIV/AIDS such as the belief that it can be transmitted by casual non-sexual contact. The disease has also become subject to many controversies involving religion.
Signs and Symptoms
There are three main stages of HIV infection: acute infection, clinical latency and AIDS. Acute Infection
The initial period following the contraction of HIV is called acute HIV, primary HIV or acute retroviral syndrome. Many individuals develop an influenza-like illness or a mononucleosis-like illness 2–4 weeks post exposure while others have no significant symptoms. Symptoms occur in 40–90% of the cases and most commonly include fever, large tender lymph nodes, throat inflammation, a rash, headache, and/or sores of the mouth and genitals. The rash, which occurs in 20–50% of cases, presents itself on the trunk and is classically maculopapular. Some people also develop opportunistic infections at this stage. Gastrointestinal symptoms such as nausea, vomiting or diarrhea may occur, as may neurological symptoms of peripheral neuropathy or Guillain-Barre syndrome. The duration of the symptoms varies, but is usually one or two weeks. Due to their nonspecific character, these symptoms are not often recognized as signs of HIV infection. Even cases that do get seen by a family doctor or a hospital are often misdiagnosed as one of the many common infectious diseases with overlapping symptoms. Thus, it is recommended that HIV be considered in patients presenting an unexplained fever who may have risk factors for the infection. Clinical latency
The initial symptoms are followed by a stage called clinical latency, asymptomatic HIV, or chronic HIV. Without treatment, this second stage of the natural history of HIV infection can last from about three years to over 20 years (on average, about eight years). While typically there are few or no symptoms at first, near the end of this stage many people experience fever, weight loss,...