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 (2-4 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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