Definition: Defining the Meaning of HIV & AIDS
Human immunodeficiency virus infection and acquired immune deficiency syndrome (HIV/AIDS) is a spectrum of conditions caused by infection with the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV).
HIV - A sexually transmitted infection. It can also be spread by contact with infected blood or from mother to child during pregnancy, childbirth or breast-feeding. It can take years before HIV weakens your immune system to the point that you have AIDS.
AIDS - A chronic, potentially life-threatening condition caused by the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV). By damaging your immune system, HIV interferes with your body's ability to fight the organisms that cause disease.
Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome is a diagnosis a person who is HIV-positive receives after a blood testing based on CD4 counts, or developing one of the Center for Disease Control's (CDC) defined AIDS indicators for the illness, even if they have not yet experienced any serious illness prior to the testing. Testing positive for the Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) does not mean that a person has AIDS yet; a diagnosis of AIDS is made by a doctor in accordance with CDC definitions.
HIV has the potential to weaken the human immune system over time, giving the system increasing difficulty in fighting off different forms of opportunistic infections. For a person with HIV who develops AIDS, opportunistic infections can cause problems that can become life-threatening because the immune system they once had that controlled them no longer can because it is weakened by AIDS. Medical intervention becomes necessary in order to either prevent or treat what have become serious illnesses.
The Difference Between HIV and AIDS
HIV is a virus, and it is the cause of AIDS; it only infects human beings. HIV is an, 'Immuno-deficiency,' virus - meaning that it creates a deficiency in the immune system, causing it to work improperly. Because it is a virus, it is not capable of reproducing itself. HIV reproduces by taking over human cells.
AIDS is something that is acquired; it is an infection that is not transmitted through genes. AIDS also affects the immune system in the human body. The immune system is the part of the body that fights off viruses and bacteria. The deficiency that AIDS causes in the immune system promotes the potential for persons with AIDS to experience a large range of opportunistic infections and a variety of diseases. Because of this potential to experience infection and disease, AIDS is considered to be a, 'syndrome.'
The Length of Time for HIV to Cause AIDS
On average, the amount of time it takes for a person who is HIV positive to present signs which could lead to an AIDS diagnosis is between eight and eleven years, although the amount of time depends on a number of factors such as the person's behaviors and health. Medical treatment is available that can either cure or prevent a number of the illnesses that are associated with AIDS. The earlier AIDS is detected, the earlier a person will have more preventative healthcare and other options available to them.
Symptoms of HIV
When the HIV virus first establishes itself in the body, it is known as a, 'primary infection.' There is a term used by some researchers; 'Acute HIV Infection,' in reference to the period of time between when a person has first been infected and the time when antibodies are produced in order to fight it. The human body usually produces these antibodies within six to twelve weeks.
Persons who are newly infected with HIV will sometimes experience symptoms that resemble the flu and last no longer than a few days, such as chills, night sweats, fevers, and rashes. Others may notice nothing at all, or have symptoms that are very mild. Because of the general nature of these symptoms it is difficult to tell if it is HIV. If you have had a potential risk of contact with HIV and have experienced these symptoms it is possible that it may be HIV; but it may also be some other form of viral infection.
Symptoms of AIDS
There are no general, common symptoms of the AIDS virus. Persons experiencing severe immune system damage and opportunistic infections which are caused by organisms that would not otherwise grow or spread as rapidly in a healthy person are considered to have AIDS after being identified as HIV-positive. These organisms involve infections and diseases that are known to the Centers for Disease Control in conjunction with AIDS.
The HIV virus can be transmitted from one person to another through semen, blood, vaginal secretions, and breast milk. Of these, blood has the highest concentration of the virus; followed by semen, vaginal secretions, and breast milk. The HIV virus can also be spread through activities that allow for its transmission, such as unprotected sexual activity.
Contact with blood through transfusions, or needles used for injections, are another way HIV has the potential to spread. A needle used to inject drugs has the potential to pass blood directly from one person to another and is an efficient way to spread a blood-borne virus. People who share needles are at high-risk of becoming HIV-positive. Accidents in healthcare settings are as well. Blood products present a certain potential to spread the HIV virus.
The human mouth is an inhospitable environment for the HIV virus when it is present in semen, vaginal secretions, or in blood. What this means is that the risk of transmitting HIV through the throat, gum's, or oral membranes is not as great as it is through either vaginal or anal membranes. There are documented cases of oral HIV transmission; it is not completely safe - it is considered a low risk practice. Safe sex practices are always encouraged.
Vaginal and anal intercourse can spread the HIV virus through mucus membranes, either directly, or through cuts and sores which have been caused during intercourse. Oftentimes, these sores or cuts go un-noticed. Both vaginal and anal intercourse are considered to be high-risk sexual practices.
There is a possibility that a mother could pass the HIV virus to a child, either before or during birth, or through their breast milk. Breast milk is a means of transmission of the HIV virus to infants, and contains the HIV virus if the mother is HIV-positive.
Some body fluids are *not-infectious; meaning that they do not spread or carry the HIV virus. These body fluids include tears, sweat, saliva, urine, and feces.
Post-Exposure Treatment for HIV
Disease prevention, or, 'Prophylaxis,' (PEP) involves taking antiretroviral medications (ARV's) as quickly as possible once you have been exposed to the HIV virus with the hope that your exposure will not lead to an HIV infection. ARV medications are available only by prescription, and PEP needs to start as quickly as possible once you have been exposed to the HIV virus; no more than seventy-hours afterward. Treatment may involve the use of two or three ARV's over a period of four weeks.
Healthcare workers, Police, and others have used Prophylaxis since 1996 for exposure to the HIV virus, taking ARV's within a few hours after exposure. They are usually exposed through accidentally sticking themselves with a needle containing HIV-infected blood. PEP has reduced the rate of HIV infection among these workers by seventy-nine percent, but some of them still become HIV-positive.
The Centers for Disease Control reviewed information related to PEP in 2005, concluding that it should be available to other people who have been exposed to the HIV virus, not necessarily just those in work-related situations. Infants exposed to HIV through breast milk, people exposed when a condom breaks during sexual activity, and persons who share needles are also exposed. The study of PEP involved four-hundred cases of potential sexual exposure to HIV and PEP; of these, no one became infected with the HIV virus.
Workers who are exposed to the HIV virus are often exposed only once, while others who are exposed to the virus may be exposed because of unsafe behaviors which can happen multiple times. There is a debate over whether PEP should be offered to people whose behaviors present them with repeated risk of exposure to the HIV virus, the reason being that it would encourage their behavior. It is unknown how soon after exposure to HIV a person has to start PEP, and it involves several medications, taken several times each day - at a cost of between $600 and $1,000. A missed dose increases the chance that the person will develop the HIV virus, as well as increasing the chance that the virus itself will develop resistance to the medications. The medications themselves have some serious side-effects, causing forty-percent of the people who have taken them to discontinue taking them.
Despite these facts, there is a growing interest in PEP for the HIV virus in persons who have been exposed in non-occupational circumstances. Programs related to non-occupational HIV exposure often include counseling with the aim of informing and encouraging people to avoid exposure to the HIV virus in the first place. The side-effects of PEP treatment include nausea and a general sense of, 'not feeling well.' There are other potential side-effects such as, vomiting, diarrhea, headaches and fatigue.
The medications involved in PEP, and how they are taken, depend on the exposure to the HIV virus. There are some different situations that are taken into consideration where PEP is concerned such as whether blood has come into contact with either open sores or cuts on the skin, or whether blood was visible on a needle that has stuck a person. Other considerations are whether large amounts of blood were involved in the exposure, or whether the blood came from another person who has a large amount of the HIV virus in their system.
A more serious exposure to HIV involves three ARV's over a four week period of time, as recommended by the U.S. Public Health Service. If the exposure is less serious, their guidelines suggest using AZT and 3TC for four weeks. The Centers for Disease Control presented a warning against using Nevirapine for PEP in January of 2001 due to the risk for liver damage.
AIDS & HIV Awareness
The red awareness ribbon is a symbol for solidarity with HIV-positive people and those living with AIDS.
HIV/AIDS Awareness Dates:
June 27th - National HIV Testing Day
May 18th - National HIV Vaccine Awareness Day
October 15th - National Latino AIDS Awareness Day
April 10th - National Youth HIV/AIDS Awareness Day
March 20th - National Native HIV/AIDS Awareness Day
February 7th - U.S. National Black HIV/AIDS Awareness Day
September 18th - National HIV/AIDS and Aging Awareness Day
September 27th - National Gay Men's HIV/AIDS Awareness Day
June 8th - National Caribbean American HIV/AIDS Awareness Day
March 10th - National Women and Girls HIV/AIDS Awareness Day
May 19th - National Asian and Pacific Islander HIV/AIDS Awareness Day
1 December - World AIDS Day is dedicated to raising awareness of the AIDS pandemic caused by the spread of HIV infection. Government and health officials, non-governmental organizations and individuals around the world observe the day, often with education on AIDS prevention and control.
Quick Facts: HIV and AIDS
HIV stands for Human Immunodeficiency Virus.
H - Human - This particular virus can only infect human beings.
I - Immunodeficiency - HIV weakens your immune system by destroying important cells that fight disease and infection. A "deficient" immune system can't protect you.
V - Virus - A virus can only reproduce itself by taking over a cell in the body of its host.
AIDS stands for Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome.
A - Acquired - AIDS is not something you inherit from your parents. You acquire AIDS after birth.
I - Immuno - Your body's immune system includes all the organs and cells that work to fight off infection or disease.
D - Deficiency - You get AIDS when your immune system is "deficient," or isn't working the way it should.
S - Syndrome - A syndrome is a collection of symptoms and signs of disease. AIDS is a syndrome, rather than a single disease, because it is a complex illness with a wide range of complications and symptoms.
Statistics: HIV and AIDS
Life expectancy has fallen in the worst-affected countries due to HIV/AIDS.
- In Canada as of 2008 there were about 65,000 cases causing 53 deaths.
- In the United Kingdom as of 2009 there where approximately 86,500 cases which resulted in 516 deaths.
- In 2008 in the United States approximately 1.2 million people were living with HIV, resulting in about 17,500 deaths.
- The worst affected European countries, in 2009 and 2012 estimates, are Russia, Ukraine, Latvia, Moldova, Portugal and Belarus, in order of prevalence.
- As of 2012, approximately 35.3 million people have HIV worldwide with the number of new infections that year being about 2.3 million. This is down from 3.1 million new infections in 2001. Of these approximately 16.8 million are women and 3.4 million are less than 15 years old. It resulted in about 1.34 million deaths in 2013, down from a peak of 2.2 million in 2005.