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Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS) is an infectious disease which causes degeneration of the body's immune system. It is caused by the Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV), a virus transmitted through bodily fluids such as blood and semen. The most common ways to contract HIV include unprotected sexual activity and the use of unsterilized needles by users of intravenous recreational drugs. Blood transfusions of contaminated blood as well as blood products to treat hemophilia have also been major routes of infection.

Not everyone who is infected with the HIV virus is considered to have AIDS. The AIDS diagnosis is usually made when a certain level of damage has been done to the immune system and is defined by the occurrence of opportunistic infections. Opportunistic infections are caused by agents usually unable to induce diseases in healthy humans. Up until that point, the person is considered simply HIV-positive. The immune damage can be quantified by the decrease of the helper T cell count, the HIV target cells in the blood. If the person's T-cell count has fallen below 200, an antiretroviral treatment is indicated.

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History of the AIDS problem

HIV is closely related to viruses causing AIDS-like diseases in many primates, and it is generally believed to have been transferred from animals to humans at some time during the early twentieth century, though some evidence suggests it may have been transferred earlier in several isolated cases. The exact animal source, time, and location of the transfer (or indeed, how many transfers there were) is not known. A virus virtually identical to human HIV has been found in chimpanzees, but it is not certain that the transfer was from chimps to humans or whether both chimps and humans were infected from a third source.

Scientific studies have suggested the virus spread initially in West Africa, but it is possible that there were several separate "initial sources", including somewhere in South America. The earliest sample known to contain HIV was taken in 1959 in what is now the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Other early samples include one from an American male who died in 1969, and a Norwegian sailor in 1976.

A misconception holds that the virus was introduced to North America by one person, Patient Zero (q.v.).

See Also: AIDS in America, AIDS in Africa[?]

Effects of AIDS

HIV causes disease by infecting the CD4+ T cells. These are a subset of leukocytes (white blood cells) that normally coordinate the immune[?] response to infection. By using CD4+ T cells to replicate itself, HIV spreads throughout the body and at the same time depletes the very cells that the body needs to fight the virus. Once a HIV+ individual's CD4+ T cell count has decreased to a certain threshold, they are prone to a range of diseases that the body can normally control. These opportunistic infections are usually the cause of death.

AIDS Prevention

HIV infection is entirely preventable by following simple, basic precautions. The only known cause of transmission is the exchange of bodily fluids.

  • Wear a condom during all sexual activity. Anal sex is a particularly high-risk behavior. A few people have been infected with HIV from giving oral sex to an infected partner, but it is considered very low risk. If you want to be absolutely certain you're safe, use a condom even during oral sex.
  • Do not share needles. If you use drugs intravenously, such as heroin, do not share your needle with someone else, and do not use a needle that has been used by others. In many places you can find a local needle exchange program where you can trade a used needle for a clean one, without any legal hassles.
  • Medical workers who follow universal precautions or body substance isolation can prevent the spread of HIV from patients to workers, and from patient to patient. The risk of being infected with HIV from a single needlestick is less than 1 in 200. Post-exposure prophylaxis with anti-HIV drugs can further reduce that small risk.

AIDS Treatment

There is still no known cure for AIDS according to allopaths, and many people still die every year, particularly in Third World countries where treatments are either not available or prohibitively expensive. Current and experimental treatments for AIDS are covered in the HIV section. Work on a vaccine continues, but progress has been slow.

AIDS denialism[?]

Some people and organizations (particularly in Africa) refuse to believe in AIDS, claiming that it is a Western plot to weaken the developing world. This denial of the nature of the AIDS problem has itself compounded the AIDS crisis, by preventing discussion and adoption of preventive measures. This view was until recently prominent within the African National Congress government of South Africa. The ANC has recently shown signs of rejecting AIDS denialism.

See also: AIDS Misconceptions and Conspiracies

Alternative Theory

A few scientists continue to question the connection between HIV and AIDS, or even the very existence of HIV. See Duesberg hypothesis.

Kary Mullis, nobel prize laureate[?] and inventor of the polymerase chain reaction (an important biotechnical process), and who has been described as possessing "creative nonconformity that verges on the lunatic" claims that HIV does not cause AIDS [1] (http://www.virusmyth.net/aids/data/cfmullis.htm).

There are multiple groups, i.e. the "Scientific Group for Reappraising the HIV-AIDS hypothesis", which includes hundreds of "AIDS dissidents". They report that they are usually denied access to AIDS conferences. The opinions of these scientists range from doubts of the existence of retroviruses or HIV to testing methods to epidemiological conclusions, doubts of the existence of an independent "AIDS" disease" and critique of conventional HIV-AIDS researchers' methods. See [2] (http://www.virusmyth.org/). [3] (http://www.whale.to/aids)

Current Status

As of the year 2002 AIDS is a global pandemic, and it shows no signs of slowing down. It is estimated that over 40 million people worldwide are HIV-positive and about 13 million have already died from AIDS-related disease, mainly tuberculosis. If such trends continue it is likely that the global death toll for AIDS will be comparable to other plagues such as the Black Death and the Spanish Flu.

In Western countries, the infection rate of HIV has slowed somewhat, due to education of safe sex practices. In some populations, however, such as young urban gay men, infection rates show signs of rising again. In Britain the number of people diagnosed with HIV increased 26% from 2000 to 2001. This is of major concern to public health workers. AIDS continues to be a problem with illegal sex workers and injection drug users. The death rate has also fallen considerably, as combinations of AIDS treatment drugs (often called "cocktails") have proven to be an effective (if expensive) means of suppressing HIV.

However in Third World countries (especially Sub-Saharan Africa), economic conditions and lack of sex education means continued high infection rates. Some countries in Africa now have up to 25% of the working adult population who are HIV-positive. As these people begin to develop full-blown AIDS, they will be unable to work, and require significant medical care. This is likely to cause a collapse of societies and governments in the region, further increasing the suffering and hardship faced. Many governments in the region continued to deny that there was a problem for years, and are only now starting to work towards solutions. Lack of adequate health-care, ignorance towards the disease and its causes, as well as the money to educate and treat are the main reasons that most AIDS deaths occur in Third World countries.

See also: AIDS quilt/NAMES project

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