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AIDS is a disease where a person’s immune system is too weak to fight off infections. AIDS stands for Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome, and it's caused by HIV (Human Immunodeficiency Virus.) If 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.” However, being HIV positive is not the same as having AIDS. It’s possible for a person to be HIV positive for many years without feeling sick. This is because HIV is a virus that 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.

AIDS was first identified in the early 1980s. Since then, an unprecedented number of people have been affected by AIDS, making it a worldwide pandemic. An estimated 33.3 million people worldwide are living with AIDS and HIV. It’s possible to become infected with HIV from anyone who is HIV positive - even if they do not appear to be ill. The virus is transmitted by:

Having unprotected sex with an HIV-infected person

Sharing a needle (mostly from illegal drug usage) with someone who is infected

Being born to a mother who is HIV infected, or drinking the breast milk of an infected woman.

Getting a blood transfusion of infected blood used to be a way people became infected, but today blood supplies are carefully screened, so this risk is now extremely low.

It is also possible to become infected through oral sex, and in rare cases, through deep kissing, especially if there are open sores in the mouth.

There are no documented cases of HIV being transmitted by tears or saliva, it is not “contagious” and cannot be transmitted by hugging or touching an infected person.

There is no cure for AIDS, but it can be prevented. This is why it’s very important for everyone to become educated about how to prevent HIV infection from being transmitted. Although there is no cure, HIV is not the death sentence it was once thought to be. Those living with HIV can take antiretroviral drugs to delay the onset of AIDS. Even those who have already developed AIDS are living longer and with an improved quality of life due to better treatment and drug “cocktails.” Many countries in the world do not have access to these drugs, however, so prevention and treatment is not as promising as in the U.S. Global leaders are working to make access to these drugs universal, thereby preventing millions of deaths.

The World Health Organization developed a staging system in 1990 for patients infected with HIV, and updated the system in 2005.

Stage I - HIV infection is asymptomatic and not categorized as AIDS.
Stage II- includes minor mucocutaneous manifestations and recurrent upper respiratory tract infections.
Stage III- includes unexplained chronic diarrhea for longer than a month, severe bacterial infections and pulmonary tuberculosis.
Stage IV- includes toxoplasmosis of the brain, candidiasis of the esophagus, trachea, bronchi or lungs and Kaposi's sarcoma; these diseases are indicators of AIDS.


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