HIV is a fascinating disease because of the fact that you do not actually die from the disease itself; you die from another, potentially harmless, disease, which your body cannot protect against due to its weakened immune system. In order to understand this better, it is important to understand how HIV affects the body. HIV weakens the body’s immune system by attacking T4 lymphocytes, a type of white blood cell. These T4 helper cells are called this because they have a receptor molecule on their surface called, CD4. The T4 cells don’t create antibody but they are responsible for chemically communicating, using chemokine, with other white blood cells in order to “launch an attack” on a virus. The HIV cells contain two viral proteins that are directly involved in the process of infecting someone, these proteins are called gp41 and gp120. The “CD4 on the surface of the T cell allows for the docking of gp120; once docked, the gp120 changes its shape so that it can bind to the chemokine receptor (called CCR5), and fusion and entry of HIV take place after binding. (Sherman p. 178)” It is not known exactly how the viral proteins deplete T4 cells but it is believed to “involve a depression in the ability to expand their numbers. (Sherman p.178)”
Once the T4 cells reach 400 to 800 cells/mm^3, as opposed to the healthy 1,000 or more T4 cells/mm^3, the first opportunistic infections can arise. This refers to infections that would normally not cause a disease, or at least nothing life threatening, but given the bodies weakened immune system begins to cause serious health problems for the individual. After this point things become dangerous, but can still be turned around, however if a persons T4 count reaches 200, they officially
have AIDS. Once someone has gotten AIDS, there is little to nothing a doctor can do because their immune system is so damaged that they can barely fight off a cold. At this point the person’s immune system is so damaged that they could very...
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