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AIDS/HIV An Overview 1

AIDS/HIV Overview

Tiffany Lyons


September 26, 2010

Tiffany Marshall
AIDS/HIV An Overview 2

AIDS/HIV An Overview

“There have been in excess of 980,000 cases of AIDS reported in the United States to

the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention since 1981. As stated by the Center for Disease

Control, (2009), greater than 1,000,000 Americans may be infected with HIV; one-quarter of

these Americans are oblivious to their infection.” (HIV Infection and AIDS, n.d.) There is a

discrepancy when looking at the figures of the individuals affected by HIV and AIDS. The lack

of knowledge to understand the differences of the two related terms can be confusing.

Individuals can be HIV infected without having AIDS; but have the chance of later developing

AIDS. However; all individuals who are infected with AIDS are also infected with HIV.

The Difference between HIV and AIDS:

HIV and AIDS are two general terms that are recognized worldwide. HIV is the

abbreviation for Human Immunodeficiency Virus while AIDS stands for Acquired Immune

Deficiency Syndrome. These terms are simple, yet complex in their individual meanings.

Using the cause and effect rule is the simplest method to remember the differences

between the two terms; HIV is the cause while AIDS is the effect. Unlike other commonly

known viruses, HIV is a virus which has extremely unusual characteristics. HIV is capable of

destroying the host’s immune system focusing on the killer cells which are important

components of the third line of the body’s defense. The killer cells associated to HIV include the

T helper and the CD4 cells. (Overview, n.d.) As components of the body’s immune system,

these cells contained in white blood cells, are responsible for defending the body against any

foreign attacks. HIV is not destroying the important components of the body’s immune system

purposely but the destructive effects are just secondary to the viruses’ struggles to obtain a

sustainable stay within the host’s system. The disruptive effects however; cause the immune
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system to fail in differentiating foreign bodies that it even attacks its own components leading to

the development of AIDS (, 2009).

Various ways HIV can be transmitted:

Although HIV can be acquired instantaneously it is highly unusual for AIDS to

develop immediately. While HIV infection is the first stage, AIDS occurs as the final stage. It

may take months or even years for the HIV infection to develop into AIDS, even though it can

only take seconds upon exposure to acquire HIV.

The implication that the HIV infection has produced substantial effects to the host’s

immune system indicates the development of AIDS. The abbreviation of AIDS, when broken

down, may offer an easier way of understanding what it stands for. AIDS is an acquired

condition which affects the immune system. A deficiency of the immune system is caused from

AIDS, which results in the immune system’s inability to function normally. The syndrome

consists of different signs and symptoms caused from the overall effects of the virus. Syndrome

is defined as a set of signs and symptoms that tend to occur together and which reflect the

presence of a particular disease or an increased chance of developing a particular disease

(Medterms, 2009). The signs and symptoms evolving from various opportunistic infections

along with altered organ systems in AIDS are caused by a weakened immune system.

Direct contact with the virus through bodily fluids such as blood, breast milk,

seminal and vaginal fluids is the foremost method of transmission. It is important to be aware of

where the virus is found in order to comprehend how the virus can be acquired. The viruses can

be transmitted through contact with seminal and vaginal fluids therefore; it is feasible to assume

that the virus can be acquired through unprotected sex as well as sexual activities involving

direct contact with these bodily fluids. The mucous membranes as well as any superficial breaks

in the skin including abrasions, wounds, or cuts such as those obtained from the use of tweezers,
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intravenous or hypodermic injections are the virus’ main course to gain access to the body

systems. Blood transfusions, direct contact with infected blood, or exposure to any blood

products presents a risk of contracting the virus. The presence of virus in the blood indicates

that transmission of the virus through exposure to infected blood is highly probable.

Transmission during pregnancy and childbirth is another means of contracting the virus. Babies

who are breastfed by their infected mothers can also acquire the virus. According to the research

that has been conducted, the number of virus in the saliva is rather low and thus far HIV has not

been found to be in sweat, fecal matters, or urine (National Institute of Health, 2009).

It is understood through the knowledge of the means of transmission, those who are at

the highest risk of acquiring the virus include individuals who have multiple sexual partners and

do not practice safe sex, individuals in the health profession, intravenous drug addicts and babies

of infected mothers. Anyone is at risk for potentially contracting the virus, either accidentally or

from the consequences of irresponsible and reckless behavior. As long as the virus is present and

in circulation in society, there is no guarantee of anyone being exempt from acquiring the virus.

Changes in the Immune System When HIV Becomes AIDS:

The process by which a HIV patient becomes an AIDS patient is possibly the most

perplexing aspect in the disease process. As stated previously, HIV virus causes impairment

while it destroys the host’s body defense. This process is best explained by equating it to a war

between army troops with the HIV as the enemy attacker and the host’s immune system as the

defending army. The disadvantages, made worse by complete invasion, will obviously take their

toll on the weakened “troop”. When the host’s defense is completely paralyzed and no longer

able to produce “new armies”, the battle going on in the immune system becomes devastating.

The immune system becomes incapable of producing new cells when HIV invades T helper and
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CD4 cells, while HIV becomes active in duplication. The inability of the infected host’s immune

system to recognize its own cells causes it to target and destroy its own components which cause

the increasing decline of the T helper and CD4 cells. The infected host’s immune system ends up

totally paralyzed when the effects reach the extremes. Worsened by the effects of the

opportunistic infections, it is at this stage the HIV patient becomes the AIDS patient.

Treatments Available

Presently, there is no known cure for the HIV or AIDS virus. Suppressive and

symptomatic treatments are for the most part, the only ones available. Antiretroviral therapies

are suppressive treatments reportedly beneficial in delaying development of AIDS and

increasing the survival rate from the disease. Progression of the effects of HIV is slowed down

with the use of antiretroviral therapies. The antiretroviral therapies work by disrupting the viral

duplication. HAART which means ‘highly active antiretroviral therapy’ is a popularly known

treatment. A combined therapy of such treatments is administered in different regimens. As HIV

and AIDS reached pandemic proportions, global recognition of the problem led to many

research studies and trials being conducted worldwide. Almost three decades have passed and

still the hope of finding a miracle cure for the disease has not been fulfilled.

Precautions to Prevent the Spread of HIV

Taking precautions to avoid spreading the infection is much simpler since the method

of transmission has been identified. Obviously, the best precautionary measure would be

practicing safe sex and engaging in only monogamous sexual relations with uninfected partners.

Every individual should by all means practice safe sex by using latex condoms, if sex with

variable partners is unavoidable. Drug addicts can prevent the transmission of the virus by
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avoiding sharing needles. The health workers can help prevent or minimize the risk of spreading

infection by the usage and proper handling of disposable needles and sharps. Proper sterilization

of materials used in hospital settings would be an exceptional contribution of health workers as

well. Certainly, thorough examination of any blood before transfusion is crucial. To minimize

the risk of spreading the disease, it is very important for all health workers to learn how to

handle properly bodily fluids while taking appropriate precautions. Individuals must constantly

be made aware they need to take responsibility in protecting themselves from direct contact with

the virus through exposure to bodily fluids.

Global Awareness Campaign

Presently, a global awareness campaign has been launched in an attempt to arm the

world with ‘ammunition’ in the war against the spread of HIV. According to the statistical data,

Africa appears to have the highest rate of infection thus far. One of the many active awareness

campaigns is the ‘Save Africa from AIDS’ (SAFA) Campaign initiated by the Department of

Africana Studies at Albany University in New York (, 2009). This campaign is

struggling hard to prevent the spread of HIV through education and information dissemination

focusing on the African orphans, the villagers, and provision of resources which are significant

in control and prevention of the disease (, 2009).

References (2009). Overview. Retrieved September 26, 2010 from (2009). Save Africa From AIDS (SAFA) Campaign. Retrieved September 26, 2010


Medterms (2009). Definition of syndrome. Retrieved September 26, 2010 from
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National Institute of Health (2009). HIV infection and AIDS: an overview (2007). Retrieved

September 26, 2010 from