HIV stands for Human Immunodeficiency Virus, which destroys the body’s immune system, resulting in AIDS. HIV lives in blood or white blood cells. HIV infection began in the 1970s but scientists were unaware of its existence and today more than 35 million people across the globe live with HIV/AIDS. In today’s era, the medical community, politicians and support organizations have made incredible progress in the fight against a heavily stigmatized virus. The annual awareness day is set aside to promote HIV education and testing in Native communities. March 20 is National Native HIV/AIDS Awareness Day, a day to consider the impact of HIV/AIDS on Native Americans. By the end of 1981, scientists had diagnosed the first case of HIV’s full-blown disease state, Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS), was documented. Way back there was no direct line connecting these early infectious diseases to AIDS and it took researchers several years to fully establish the connection. In the earlier years, HIV was only understood to be viral, deadly, and highly contagious via unknown means. Drug users and homosexuals bore the brunt of the discrimination. During that time HIV and AIDS had been noted in sexually active heterosexual groups in central African countries. With this line of thinking global leaders made historic if not overdue efforts to stop its spread in developing nations. The WHO released its comprehensive report examining HIV and AIDS in all of its 25-year history in 2010. In 2011, AIDS claimed 1.7 million lives, down from the mortality peak of 2.3 million in 2005 and from the 1.8 million deaths recorded in 2010. In most of the countries HIV/AIDS population does not have access to antiretroviral treatments so in order to control the mortality rate public awareness campaigns about safe sex and safer drug use plays an important role.

HIV stands for H – Human: This particular form of the virus infects only humans; I – Immunodeficiency: HIV weakens the immune system by attacking its most important cells; V – Virus: Like a virus, HIV reproduces by taking over a healthy host cell and destroys enough of the host cells and the immune system can no longer fight off basic infections and illnesses (1). If HIV-positive patient begins to suffer from opportunistic infections and diseases, like chronic dysentery, osteoporosis or skin infections, that patient is considered to have AIDS, which stands for –

  • A – Acquired: While one can born with HIV, cannot born with AIDS as it is acquired after birth.
  • I – Immuno: AIDS targets the immune system.
  • D – Deficiency: AIDS is characterized by deficient immune responses.
  • S – Syndrome: AIDS is not a singular disease, it is called a syndrome because it comes with a whole host of complications and symptoms.

The main key to fight with AIDS is stopping the rapid replication of the HIV virus within a patient’s T-cells. In turn, allowing an infected host to maintain a functioning immune system. There is a combination of three very powerful drugs, taken exactly as prescribed every day, effectively stops HIV from infecting new cells. Though there is no cure for the disease HIV-positive individuals can live a long and healthy life by adhering to the treatment regimen as missing even a handful of doses can allow HIV to begin replicating. In 2009, the global health community celebrated when an HIV patient named Timothy Brown was reportedly cured of HIV after receiving a bone marrow transplant from a donor whose cells possessed a mutation for HIV resistance. HIV spreads due to several factors – Sharing drug injection equipment or being accidentally stuck by needles or sharp objects contaminated with infected blood, Infected blood used in transfusions, Pregnancy, childbirth, and/or breastfeeding, where the virus is passed from mother to child, Transplanted organs from infected donors, unprotected sexual intercourse with an HIV-infected person. HIV and AIDS do not get transmitted through casual contact. To be specific people become infected with HIV they don’t catch AIDS. Many HIV-positive people do not have symptoms of HIV infection but they go through periods of being sick and then feel fine. Some people experience a flu-like illness, develop a rash, or get swollen glands for a brief period soon after HIV infection. The end result of HIV infection is body no longer remains able to fight off other opportunistic infections.

Currently, there is no cure for AIDS. However, many treatments allow HIV-positive patients to live long and healthy lives. Antiretroviral therapy (ART) is recommended for HIV positive people (2). It can’t cure HIV, but helps them to live longer, healthier lives and also reduces the risk of HIV transmission. HIV attacks and destroys the infection-fighting immune cells especially CD4 cells (3). The Loss of CD4 cells weakens the body’s defense system and makes it hard for the body to fight off infections and certain HIV-related cancers. HIV medicines prevent HIV from multiplying (making copies of itself), which reduces the amount of HIV in the body (also called the viral load). ART reduces a person’s viral load to an undetectable level and an undetectable viral load indicates very low virus count to be detected by a viral load test. HIV positive patients maintaining an undetectable viral load have effectively no risk of transmitting HIV to their HIV-negative partner through sex.

If HIV patients have access to the treatment AIDS is not the death sentence as it was thought to be in the early years. In most developed countries, treatment is accessible at a reasonable cost and to date, over 20 of the most powerful combination therapies have been approved by the FDA. The first step to remove the social stigma attached to AIDS is towards an open dialogue, which is ideally followed by an influx of treatment options for marginalized peoples. The root cause of AIDS explosion is lack of education and poverty and are the main obstacles to overcome in order to end the crisis. HIV infection rates have stabilized in many countries across the world by spreading awareness about precautions and treatment, but we have a long way to go.

References

  1. Emerman M, Malim MH. HIV-1 regulatory/accessory genes: keys to unraveling viral and host cell biology. Science. 1998 Jun 19; 280(5371):1880-4.
  2. Mohri H, Perelson AS, Tung K, Ribeiro RM, Ramratnam B, Markowitz M, Kost R, Hurley A, Weinberger L, Cesar D, Hellerstein MK, Ho DD. Increased turnover of T lymphocytes in HIV-1 infection and its reduction by antiretroviral therapy. J Exp Med. 2001 Nov 5; 194(9):1277-87.
  3. Douek DC, Picker LJ, Koup RA. T cell dynamics in HIV-1 infection. Annu Rev Immunol. 2003; 21:265-304.