AIDS stands for Acquired immune deficiency syndrome. It is a deadly disease caused by a virus known as Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV). The HIV directly attacks the immune system of the infected person such that the body’s defence system is rendered powerless as the virus propagates throughout the body, without the latter being able to get rid of it. The immune system otherwise initiates reactions to get rid of the foreign pathogens, be they bacteria of viruses. However, when it is itself attacked at its core, the body becomes helpless and has to bear the brunt of the multiplying viruses.
As the virus impacts negatively on the person’s immunity, he becomes so much more vulnerable to other pathogens: being infected with other bacteria and viruses becomes easier, as the cells of the immune system can no longer fight foreign harmful susbtances. Therefore, a person infected with HIV becomes more susceptible to other infections and diseases. As the HIV spreads throughout the body, the immune system is increasingly weakened.
The virus is found in body fluids, namely the semen, vaginal fluids, blood, and breast milk of the infected people. Other body fluids like saliva and tears do not transmit the deadly virus. AIDS is an infectious disease: if an uninfected person gets into contact with the body fluids of another, he contracts the virus. Sexual contact and blood-to-blood contact are the ways through which the virus spreads from people to people. Additionally, pregnant women who are infected might also cause their babies to be infected with HIV, either during childbirth or via breastfeeding. Sexual contact includes oral and anal sex. Many have been infected through blood transfusion and the exchange of hypodermic needles.
HIV vs AIDS?
It is important to differentiate between HIV and AIDS. HIV is the name of the virus, and those infected with the virus are said to have an HIV infection. Not everyone with the infection has AIDS. AIDS is a disease which results from the infection over time. It is a gradual process. Many who are infected with HIV develop AIDS later in their life.
Whe initially infected with HIV, the person might suffer from influenza-like diseases. Following this stage is a long period of time where the person does not experience any symptom. However, as the virus gradually spreads, impacting on the immune system, the person becomes increasingly susceptible to opportunistic infections and tumours.
Preventive measures include the practice of safe sex to curb the transmission of HIV. Needle-exchange programs also form part of the campaign to combat AIDS.
No cure or vaccine exists yet to do away completely with the disease.