AIDS (Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome)
is a disease where a person’s immune system is too weak to fight off infections. Approximately 33 million people worldwide are infected with HIV. There is no known cure for it. A person does not “catch” AIDS. AIDS is caused by HIV (Human Immunodeficiency Virus.) Once a person is infected with HIV, the body will try to fight it off by making special antibodies. A blood test for HIV to look for these antibodies can determine if a person is “HIV positive,” or “HIV negative.” Being HIV positive is not the same as having AIDS, although 90 % of HIV infected persons will eventually develop AIDS. It’s possible for a person to be HIV positive for many years without feeling sick. HIV gradually attacks immune system cells and as it continues, it progressively, but slowly, wears down the immune system, making a person more susceptible to illness. As the body becomes more vulnerable to infections, it will have more difficulty fighting them off. These viruses, bacteria and fungi that may not have otherwise caused problems, can make a person that has advanced HIV infection very ill. At this stage, a person is said to have AIDS. It can be years, though, before an HIV positive person’s immune system is damaged enough to develop AIDS. The group of viruses, bacterial infections and fungi that cause sickness are referred to as opportunistic infections.
The HIV virus attacks specific lymphocytes called T helper cells. When the number of T-cells reach a very low level, people who are HIV-positive become much more susceptible to other infections. They may get certain infections and even certain types of cancer that a healthy person would be able to fight off. There have been tremendous advancements in AIDS treatments in the past decade, thanks to continued research and clinical trials. Much research concentrates on improving quality of life, along with extended life, which means that AIDS is not the death sentence that it was once considered. However, strict adherence to treatment is required.
AIDS symptoms vary person to person. The group of conditions that make up the AIDS syndrome are called “opportunistic infections” (O Is). These infections can affect every organ in the body. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) lists the following as the most common opportunistic infections:
PCP pneumonia lung infection
KS (Kaposi’s sarcoma) skin cancer
CMV (Cytomegalovirus), an infection that usually affects the eyes
Fungal infections of the throat or vagina, Candida, a fungal infection that can cause thrush.
Other AIDS symptoms may include unexplained weight loss, fever, night sweats, swollen glands, chills, overall weakness, various cancers, including cancers of the immune system.