HIV Basics

HIV Basics & Common Knowledge - Understand the Basics of HIV & AIDS

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HIV Stands for Human Immun­od­e­fi­cien­cy Virus

HIV stands for human immun­od­e­fi­cien­cy virus, which is exact­ly how it sounds. This is a virus occur­ring in humans (can’t be spread either to or from pets), which caus­es the human immune sys­tem to become defi­cient. In sim­pler terms, if left unchecked, HIV will destroy a person’s immune system.

The Third Stage of HIV is AIDS

AIDS stands for acquired immune defi­cien­cy syn­drome, the third and final stage of HIV. AIDS can be iden­ti­fied when a person’s immune sys­tem is so weak, they can no longer fight off even the sim­plest of infec­tions, also called oppor­tunis­tic infec­tions’. AIDS is fatal; there is no cure and it is more dif­fi­cult to treat than first stage HIV

With prop­er med­ical treat­ment and ear­ly detec­tion, most peo­ple today with HIV will live out their lives nev­er actu­al­ly acquir­ing AIDS. AIDS is all but guar­an­teed for those who nev­er seek treatment. 

  • With­out treat­ment, the avg. sur­vival time for AIDS vic­tims is about three years. 

HIV is a Retrovirus

A retro­virus inserts a genet­ic copy/​copies into a host cell, there­by repli­cat­ing itself. HIV does this to those cells that are part of the human immune sys­tem, called CD4 cells (meant to kill oth­er cells that have been infect­ed), alter­ing their func­tion. Instead of their orig­i­nal jobs (fight­ing infec­tion), these cells now sim­ply pro­duce more HIV virus. 

As time pro­gress­es, you are left with less and less CD4 cells and more and more virus pro­duc­ing cells. 

No Cure Exists for HIV, but Treat­ment is Excellent

As of yet no cure has been dis­cov­ered for HIV. Once a patient becomes infect­ed, they have the dis­ease for life. That being said, there are some extreme­ly effec­tive treat­ments out there today, that though they can’t cure the dis­ease, essen­tial­ly ren­der it harmless. 

HIV patients are treat­ed with some­thing called Anti­retro­vi­ral Ther­a­py’. When tak­en in com­bi­na­tion, these drugs are very effec­tive at pre­vent­ing the growth and expan­sion of the HIV virus.

If tak­en prop­er­ly, anti­retro­vi­ral treat­ment can stop the HIV virus from infect­ing cells and mak­ing copies, allow­ing the body’s immune sys­tem to recov­er. If HIV can no longer copy itself, it can no longer do the dam­age it was meant to.

Sci­en­tists Think HIV Came from African Chimps

Sci­en­tists have iden­ti­fied a type of Cen­tral African chimp as the orig­i­nal car­ri­er, and source, of the HIV virus. They believe the chim­panzee ver­sion, called simi­an immun­od­e­fi­cien­cy virus, was prob­a­bly trans­mit­ted to humans before mutat­ing to become HIV back when the chimps were hunt­ed for their meat. 

Though it wasn’t dis­cov­ered until the 1980’s, sci­en­tists firm­ly believe the virus has exist­ed in the US since the mid to late 1970’s, and it could have jumped from chimps to humans back in the late 1800’s.

Get­ting Test­ed is the Only Way to Know For Sure if You Have HIV

Some patients might show flu-like symp­toms dur­ing the first stage of infec­tion (24 weeks), and could last a few days to sev­er­al weeks after. Depend­ing on the test­ing method used, peo­ple who are infect­ed might even get false neg­a­tive results due to the ear­ly win­dow and lack of anti­bod­ies. Some peo­ple might not show any symp­toms at all. 

All the while, these peo­ple are very infec­tious, and can eas­i­ly pass the virus on to oth­ers. Patients often don’t see any symp­toms dur­ing the sec­ond stage of HIV, which can last 10 years or more. They can still eas­i­ly pass on the virus, and may not get test­ed because they don’t believe any­thing is wrong. 

The third stage is, of course, AIDS. At this point, the immune sys­tem has suf­fered exten­sive dam­age, open­ing the door to poten­tial­ly lethal infec­tions. The aver­age lifes­pan for AIDS patients who go untreat­ed is 3 years. 

HIV is Spread via Bod­i­ly Flu­ids, and Only Bod­i­ly Fluids

HIV is only spread from cer­tain bod­i­ly flu­ids, and can only be spread from humans to oth­er humans (not ani­mals, such as pets). These flu­ids include blood, semen, pre-sem­i­nal flu­ids, rec­tal flu­ids, vagi­nal flu­ids, and breast milk. 

HIV can’t be spread from sweat, or skin to skin con­tact- such as hold­ing hands. It is much hard­er to get out­side of spe­cif­ic activ­i­ties, such as unsafe sex or ille­gal drug use with non-ster­ile nee­dles con­tain­ing infect­ed blood.

HIV/AIDS Leads to Oppor­tunis­tic Infections

Oppor­tunis­tic infec­tions are those that occur much more often in peo­ple with weak­ened immune sys­tems. Once a patient suf­fer­ing from HIV reach­es a stage where their immune sys­tems have been so weak­ened by the virus they can no longer work the way they were meant to, even minor infec­tions that most peo­ple wouldn’t even know about can cause great damage. 

Thank­ful­ly, oppor­tunis­tic infec­tions are much less com­mon today than they were dur­ing the 80’s or 90’s. If you’ll take a look at our facts page, you’ll notice there are still many suf­fer­ers who are open to oppor­tunis­tic infec­tions because they aren’t aware of the dis­ease they carry. 

The devel­op­ment of an oppor­tunis­tic infec­tion is a sign HIV has pro­gressed to the third and final stage, AIDS.

Med­ical Treat­ment is Mak­ing Impres­sive Advances

The AIDS virus was first dis­cov­ered in 1983, although sci­en­tists called it by anoth­er name then- human T-cell lym­photrop­ic virus-type III/­lym­phadenopa­thy-asso­ci­at­ed virus. Today, sci­en­tists believe humans could have car­ried this mys­te­ri­ous virus as far back as the late 1800’s. Dur­ing the mid 80’s and ear­ly 90’s, treat­ment was very poor. 

In 1984, AIDS Action’, a com­mu­ni­ty based orga­ni­za­tion, was already meet­ing in Wash­ing­ton DC to protest what has quick­ly became a nation­al epi­dem­ic. Thank­ful­ly, the worst days of the dis­ease are long behind us. Unlike 30 or 40 years ago, there is no rea­son patients can live the same ful­fill­ing life they had before the virus, as long as they seek treat­ment and adhere to it! 

Today, with treat­ment so advanced, the largest con­trib­u­tor to the HIV virus is Peo­ple who Don’t Know they Have it.

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