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AIDS (Acquired  Immuno-deficiency  Syndrome)

 

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Aids, first described in 1981, is caused by a virus that not only damages tissues, but also increases vulnerability  to many disorders, especially infections. These result from the progressive destruction of the immune system by the human immunodeficiency  virus (HIV) which brazenly attacks the immune system, which is our bodyís natural defense against illnesses, especially the infectious ones. AIDS is not a virus but a set of symptoms (or syndrome) caused by the HIV virus. A person is said to have AIDS when their immune system is too weak to fight off infection, and they develop certain defining symptoms and illnesses. This is the last stage of HIV, when the infection is very advanced, and if left untreated will lead to death. AIDS is also referred to as advanced HIV infection or late-stage HIV.

The AIDS virus is transmitted when a body fluid of an infected individual - blood, semen, vaginal secretions, or breast milk - is absorbed into the bloodstream of a healthy person. The major exception appears to be saliva, which has never been shown to be carrier. When the disease was first discovered in the United States, most cases were transmitted by male homosexual activity, quite in contrast to the underdeveloped nations, where AIDS was spread mostly through heterosexual intercourse. Nowadays most cases in the US are transmitted by the sharing of the hypodermic needles and heterosexual intercourse, with women accounting for a large percentage of new cases. Before development of an HIV scanning  test in 1986, a number of cases were contracted from contaminated transfusions and the coagulation factors used to treat hemophilia.

Whenever a virus enters the body. a healthy immune system produces a variety of fighter cells, which include the T-cell lymphocytes. HIV invades T-cells and uses their genetic material to multiply itself. The virus eventually destroys the T-cells, producing many new HIV particles in the process. In time, the immune system is overwhelmed by the infection, and the person becomes increasingly susceptible to infections and other diseases that make up the  AIDS complex.

It takes an average of about 10 years from the time of initial infection to develop full-blown AIDS, and throughout that entire period, contact with body fluids (except saliva)  from the person harbouring the virus, can spread the infection.

The virus destroys a type of white blood cell in the immune system called a T-helper cell, and makes copies of itself inside these cells. T-helper cells are also referred to as CD4 cells. If untreated, a personís immune system will eventually be completely destroyed. AIDS refers to a set of symptoms and illnesses that occur at the very final stage of HIV infection. As HIV destroys more CD4 cells and makes more copies of itself, it gradually breaks down a personís immune system. This means someone living with HIV, who is not receiving treatment, will find it harder and harder to fight off infections and diseases. If HIV is left untreated, it may take up to 10 or 15 years for the immune system to be so severely damaged it can no longer defend itself at all. However, the speed HIV progresses will vary depending on age, health and background.

There is effective antiretroviral treatment available so people with HIV can live a normal, healthy life. The earlier HIV is diagnosed, the sooner treatment can start Ė leading to better long term health. HIV cannot be transmitted through sweat, saliva or urine. Using male condoms or female condoms during sex is the best way to prevent HIV and other sexually transmitted infections. If you inject drugs, always use a clean needle and syringe, and never share equipment. If you are pregnant and living with HIV, the virus in your blood could pass into your babyís body, or after giving birth through breastfeeding. Taking HIV treatment virtually eliminates this risk. There is currently no cure for HIV. However, with the right treatment and support, people with HIV can live long and healthy lives, provide they take treatment correctly, as per the attending physician's explicit instructions.

Although particles of the HIV virus can be detected by complex tests, a more practical approach is to test for the antibodies made in response to the virus. These antibodies aren't detectable until at least 6 weeks after the primary infection; in rare cases, it may take about a year or even more for them to develop. A negative scan result, therefore, doesn't necessarily rule out the existence of an HIV infection. The most common test for HIV is a blood analysis called ELISA, short for enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay. Because the ELISA test can be falsely positive, however, a firm diagnosis also requires a positive response to another antibody test called the Western blot test, which specifically detects HIV antibodies. Once an HIV infection has been confirmed, frequent blood tests to measure T-cell levels will indicate just how fast the disease is progressing, even in the absence of any symptoms.