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What is AIDS?

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AIDS AIDS stands for Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome. It is a syndrome (also a collection of symptoms / illnesses) caused by the most advanced stages of HIV -Human Immunodeficiency Virus/ infection.

Simply put, AIDS is a virus that attacks the immune system; the cells of the immune system are essentially what your body needs to fight a virus- so when the immune cells themselves get attacked, you have a problem- the body is left unable to defend itself.

AIDS is not a specific illness as such, but a person is said to have developed AIDS when their immune system is so badly damaged by HIV that it can no longer fight off a range of defined opportunistic infections.

The exact definition of AIDS varies by country (and purpose of definition), but it will generally be diagnosed when a person is HIV-positive AND suffers from at least one of the following conditions:
  • Candidiasis of bronchi, trachea or lungs
  • Candidiasis oesophageal
  • Cervical cancer (invasive)
  • Coccidioidomycosis, disseminated or extrapulmonary
  • Cryptococcosis, extrapulmonary
  • Cryptosporidiosis, chronic intestinal for longer than 1 month
  • Cryptomegalovirus disease (other than liver, spleen or lymph nodes)
  • Encephalopathy (HIV-related)
  • Herpes simplex: chronic ulcer(s) (for more than 1 month); or bronchitis, pneumonitis or oesophagitis
  • Histoplasmosis, disseminated or extrapulmonary
  • Isosporiasis, chronic intestinal (for more than 1 month)
  • Kaposi's sarcoma
  • Lymphoma Burkitt's, immunoblastic or primary brain
  • Mycobacterium avium complex
  • Mycobacterium, other species, disseminated or extrapulmonary
  • Pneumocystis carinii pneumonia
  • Pneumonia (recurrent)
  • Progressive multifocal leukoencephalopathy
  • Salmonella septicemia (recurrent)
  • Toxoplasmosis of the brain
  • Tuberculosis
  • Wasting syndrome due to HIV

In some countries, an AIDS diagnosis will also be made when an HIV-positive person's CD4 count falls below 200 per µL of blood (even if they outwardly still seem perfectly healthy and have not yet experienced symptoms of any of the above AIDS-defining illnesses).
The exact use of the AIDS definition is further complicated by the fact that some countries regard AIDS as incurable and an AIDS diagnosis as irreversible, whilst others countries regard AIDS as being cured when a patient is cured of all AIDS-defining illnesses.
Because AIDS is a syndrome, there is no test for AIDS. There is only a test for HIV - the virus which can cause AIDS - and the individual illnesses that contribute towards the AIDS diagnosis.
Prevention of AIDS AIDS passes from person to person via direct contact of certain bodily fluids; This includes:
  • Sex- oral sex, anal sex, intercourse
  • Infected needles- injecting yourself (drugs) with a needle/syringe that was previously used by an infected person
  • Tattoos/piercings- using tools that have not been properly sterilized
  • blood transfusions- All blood is checked in the US for the risk of HIV yet some rare cases still exist and it is advisable to be wary in foreign countries
  • Mother /baby- the baby of an HIV infected mother has a chance of being born with HIV- although recent studies (March of Dimes) shows that with proper care and drugs the chances can be as low as 2%.

To avoid contracting the virus:
  • Use protection when having sex
  • Use sterile needles/sterile tools at a tattoo/piercing parlor
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