The human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) was once thought to only affect a select group of people. Nowadays, it is recognized that HIV affects all people from every walk of life regardless of sexual orientation. The United Nations AIDS Programme estimated that, in 2003, there were 40 million people worldwide living with HIV with women accounting for half of these cases. In December 2003, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimated that between 1,039,000 and 1,185,000 people in the United States were infected with HIV. In America, African-Americans and homosexual males are thought to be the most at risk of being infected with HIV.
Type of Infection: Viral
Mode of Transmission: Mainly through unprotected vaginal or anal sex as well as through breast milk and sharing drug needles with an infected person. May also be infected by performing oral sex on some who is infected or by sharing sex toys that have not been cleaned. While there was once concern about the possibility of infection through blood transfusions, strict screening procedures have been in place in North America and Europe for many years to prevent an infection from occurring this way. People living in other countries, though, may still be at risk of infection through blood transmission.
Symptoms: The initial symptoms of HIV are similar to the flu and include fever, swollen lymph glands, headaches, muscle aches, fatigue and fever. However, many people fail to notice any HIV symptoms. Although the virus can remain dormant in your system for many years, the virus will continue to weaken your immune system by attacking your CD4 cells. Once the viral load overwhelms your CD4 cells (or T4 cells), you will likely develop an opportunistic infection resulting in a diagnosis of AIDS (Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome).
Treatment:There is no cure for HIV or AIDS. HIV medications usually include antiviral drugs that are taken to hinder the growth and even kill off part of the HIV cells. Although this HIV/AIDS treatment does not work for everyone, they can help to keep you healthy and avoid the progression of the infection to AIDS.
Complications: The main complications associated with HIV are the increased risk of serious illness, developing AIDS, and dying of an AIDS-related complication.
Consequences in Infants: Approximately 25% of all babies born to women with HIV will also be infected and will develop HIV symptoms within their first year of life. However, the use of antiviral drugs during pregnancy can significantly reduce your risk of transmitting the virus to your baby.
Risk Factors: Failing to use a condom every time you have vaginal or anal sex, sharing needles and being infected with another sexually transmitted disease, like gonorrhea or chlamydia, can increase your risk of being infected with HIV.
Prevention: Abstaining from sex or having sex within a long-term, monogamous relationship with someone who has tested free of the HIV virus are the only sure ways to avoid being infected. If you are sexually active, it is important to use a condom every time you have sex. You should also avoid using illicit IV drugs and sharing needles.
Research: Many different research teams are working on creating an HIV vaccine as well as a cure for those already living with the infection. Work is also underway to create a vaccine for AIDS. Because many people form a resistance to their HIV medications, new drugs to treat HIV are also being developed.