The facts about AIDS and HIV was prepared by the research staff of American International AIDS Foundation. We hope you’ll find this information useful and will pass along what you learn here to your friends and loved ones in the hope that you too can "Provide Knowledge and Share Hope" to help end this horrible disease.
Here are some of the alarming facts of this tragedy:
AIDS and HIV do not discriminate. It is devastating to people of all ages, genders, races, religions and nationalities regardless if you're gay, straight, a drug user or not. It can reach you in the most innocent of ways and that's what makes it so dangerous. While there is no cure at this time (only treatment) for the AIDS virus, it can be prevented through education, awareness and precautionary methods, including HIV home testing kits offered through www.AidsFactSheet.com.
HIV is short for Human Immunodeficiency Virus, which is the virus that causes AIDS. This virus is passed from one person to another through blood-to-blood and/or sexual contact. In addition, infected pregnant women can pass HIV to their baby during pregnancy or delivery, as well as through breast-feeding. People with HIV have what is commonly called an HIV infection but sometimes it is also called the AIDS virus. Viruses are germs that can cause illness in humans. As an example, Measles, Mumps, Chicken Pox and the Flu are all caused by viruses. Viruses cannot reproduce on their own. They can only reproduce by using the cells of other humans or animals. In humans, different viruses infect different cells and cause different sorts of illnesses. For example, HIV infects the cells of the 'immune system' - the very thing the body uses to fight against germs. Most people with HIV will eventually develop AIDS as a result of their HIV infection.
HIV is a Retrovirus and belongs to a class of viruses called retroviruses. Retroviruses are ribonucleic acid (RNA) viruses, and in order to replicate they must make a deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) copy of their RNA. It is the DNA genes that allow the virus to replicate. Like all viruses, HIV can replicate only inside cells, commandeering the cell's machinery to reproduce. However, only HIV and other retroviruses, once inside a cell, use an enzyme called reverse transcriptase to convert their RNA into DNA, which can be incorporated into the host cell's genes.
HIV is also a slow virus that belongs to a subgroup of retroviruses known as lentiviruses, or "slow" viruses. The course of infection with these viruses is characterized by a long interval between initial infection and the onset of serious symptoms. Other lentiviruses infect nonhuman species. For example, the feline immunodeficiency virus (FIV) infects cats and the simian immunodeficiency virus (SIV) infects monkeys and other nonhuman primates. Like HIV in humans, these animal viruses primarily infect immune system cells, often causing immunodeficiency and AIDS-like symptoms. These viruses and their hosts have provided researchers with useful, albeit imperfect, models of the HIV disease process in people.
Structure of HIV
The viral envelope; HIV has a diameter of 1/10,000 of a millimeter and is spherical in shape. The outer coat of the virus, known as the viral envelope, is composed of two layers of fatty molecules called lipids, taken from the membrane of a human cell when a newly formed virus particle buds from the cell. Recent evidence indicates that HIV may enter and exit cells through special areas of the cell membrane known as "lipid rafts." These rafts are high in cholesterol and glycolipids and may provide a new target for blocking HIV. Embedded in the viral envelope are proteins from the host cell, as well as 72 copies (on average) of a complex HIV protein (frequently called "spikes") that protrudes through the surface of the virus particle (virion). This protein, known as Env, consists of a cap made of three molecules called glycoprotein (gp) 120, and a stem consisting of three gp41 molecules that anchor the structure in the viral envelope. Much of the research to develop a vaccine against HIV has focused on these envelope proteins.
The viral core.; Within the envelope of a mature HIV particle is a bullet-shaped core or capsid, made of 2000 copies of another viral protein, p24. The capsid surrounds two single strands of HIV RNA, each of which has a copy of the virus's nine genes. Three of these, gag, pol and env, contain information needed to make structural proteins for new virus particles. The env gene, for example, codes for a protein called gp160 that is broken down by a viral enzyme to form gp120 and gp41, the components of Env.
2. How is HIV transmitted from one person to another? < top > - < next >
HIV is most commonly spread by coming into direct contact with blood, semen (cum) or vaginal fluids during unprotected sex with an infected partner. HIV is also frequently spread among injection drug users by the sharing of needles or syringes contaminated with very small quantities of blood from someone infected with the virus.
The HIV virus can enter the body through a vein (e.g., injection drug use), the lining of the vagina, vulva, penis, the anus or rectum, the mouth, as well as other mucous membranes (e.g., eyes or inside of the nose), or cuts and sores. Intact, healthy skin is an excellent barrier against HIV and other viruses and bacteria.
Here are a few of the body fluids have been PROVEN to spread HIV:
Here are a few of the body fluids where HIV is present in negligible/small quantities but pose minimal or no risk.
HIV is NOT present in:
You CAN get the virus by:
You CANNOT get it from:
Perhaps you’ve have heard the term HIV-positive. It means that an antibody test has shown that someone has been infected with HIV. It does not necessarily mean that a person has AIDS right now. Many people with HIV may not know they have it. You can carry the virus for up to 15 years and possibly longer without any overt signs or symptoms. They may look, act, and feel healthy, but can still infect others with HIV through unsafe sex or by sharing needles. If a person engages in an "at risk" lifestyle they should get tested for HIV regularly.
Some activities are more risky than others. If a couple has anal intercourse the risk of infection is greater than with vaginal intercourse. If a woman with HIV has sexual intercourse without using a condom, HIV could get into the man's blood through a sore patch on his penis or by getting into the tube which runs down the penis. If there is any contact with blood during sex, this increases the risk of infection. As an example, there may be blood in the vagina if intercourse occurs during or near a woman's period. There can also be bleeding during anal intercourse.
You can protect yourself from HIV infection by making smart decisions about sex and drugs. Some things are very risky to do, some less risky, and some are 100 percent safe. Of course, the surest way to avoid the virus is to choose not to have sexual intercourse - vaginal, oral, or anal - and not to use illegal drugs.
If you choose to have sexual intercourse, select your partner wisely and protect yourself by practicing safer activities and/or use high quality latex condoms. Condoms are also a safe, effective, and inexpensive form of birth control, so you can protect yourself from an unwanted pregnancy at the same time. They also protect you from sexually transmitted diseases, STDs.
Many people do not have any symptoms when they first become infected with HIV. Some people, however, have a flu-like illness within a month or two after exposure to the virus. This illness may include
These symptoms usually disappear within a week to a month and are often mistaken for those of another viral infection. During this period, people are very infectious, and HIV is present in large quantities in genital fluids.
More persistent or severe symptoms may not appear for many years after HIV first enters the body in adults, or within two years in children born with HIV infection. This period of "asymptomatic" infection is highly individual. Some people may begin to have symptoms within a few months, while others may be symptom free for 10 years or more.
Even during the asymptomatic period, the virus is actively multiplying, infecting, and killing cells of the immune system. HIV's effect is seen most obviously in a decline in the blood levels of CD4 positive T cells (also called T4 cells) -- the immune system's key infection fighters. At the beginning of its life in the human body, the virus disables or destroys these cells without causing symptoms.
As the immune system worsens, a variety of complications start to take over. For many people, their first sign of infection is large lymph nodes or "swollen glands" that may be enlarged for more than three months. Other symptoms often experienced months to years before the onset of AIDS include:
Lack of energy
In addition, some people develop frequent and severe herpes infections that cause mouth, genital, or anal sores, or a painful nerve disease called shingles. Children may grow slowly or be sick a lot.
However, no one should assume they are infected with HIV if they have any of these symptoms. Each of these symptoms can be related to other illnesses. You cannot rely on symptoms alone to know whether or not you are infected with HIV. Also keep in mind that many people who are infected with HIV do not have any symptoms at all for many years. The only way to determine for sure whether you are infected is to be tested for HIV.
Similarly, you cannot rely on symptoms to establish that a person has AIDS. The symptoms of AIDS are similar to the symptoms of many other illnesses. AIDS is a medical diagnosis made by a doctor.
The HIV infection is characterized by a gradual deterioration of immune function. Most notably, immune cells (which are crucial to the normal function of the human immune system) called CD4+ T cells are disabled and killed during the typical course of infection. These cells, sometimes called "T-helper cells," play a central role in the immune response, signaling other cells in the immune system to perform their special functions. In fact, loss of these cells in people with HIV is an extremely powerful predictor of the development of AIDS.
A healthy, uninfected person usually has 800 to 1,200 CD4+ T cells per cubic millimeter (mm3) of blood. During HIV infection, the number of these cells in a person's blood progressively declines. When a person's CD4+ T cell count falls below 200/mm3, he or she becomes particularly vulnerable to the opportunistic infections and cancers that typify AIDS, the end stage of HIV infection. People with AIDS often suffer infections of the lungs, intestinal tract, brain, eyes and other organs, as well as debilitating weight loss, diarrhea, neurologic conditions and cancers such as Kaposi's sarcoma and certain types of lymphomas.
Most scientists think that HIV causes AIDS by directly inducing the death of CD4+ T cells or interfering with their normal function, and by triggering other events that weaken a person's immune function. For example, the network of signaling molecules that normally regulates a person's immune response is disrupted during HIV infection, impairing a person's ability to fight other infections. The HIV-mediated destruction of the lymph nodes and related immunologic organs also plays a major role in causing the immunosuppression seen in people with AIDS.
Studies of thousands of people have revealed that most people infected with HIV carry the virus for years before enough damage is done to the immune system for AIDS to develop. However, recently developed sensitive tests have shown a strong connection between the amount of HIV in the blood and the decline in CD4+ T cell numbers and the development of AIDS. Reducing the amount of virus in the body with anti-HIV drugs can slow this immune destruction. Drugs called protease inhibitors interfere with this step of the viral life cycle. Six such drugs -- saquinavir, ritonavir, indinavir, amprenavir, nelfinavir, and lopinavir -- have been approved for marketing in the United States.
If you would like a more scientific (or technical) explanation of how HIV causes AIDS, click here.
The term AIDS first appeared in the Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR) of the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) in 1982 to describe ". . . a disease, at least moderately predictive of a defect in cell-mediated immunity, occurring with no known cause for diminished resistance to that disease" The first cases of AIDS were identified in the United States in 1981, but it most likely existed here and in other parts of the world for many years before that. In 1984 scientists proved that HIV causes AIDS.
AIDS is short for Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome and applies to the most advanced stages of HIV infection.
A positive HIV test result does not mean that a person has AIDS. A diagnosis of AIDS is made by a physician using certain clinical criteria. The Centers for Disease Control has developed official criteria for the definition of AIDS and is responsible for tracking the spread of AIDS in the United States.
The CDC's definition of AIDS includes all HIV-infected people who have fewer than 200 CD4 positive T cells per cubic millimeter of blood. (Healthy adults usually have CD4 positive T-cell counts of 1,000 or more.) In addition, the definition includes 26 clinical conditions that affect people with advanced HIV disease. Most of these conditions are opportunistic infections that generally do not affect healthy people. In people with AIDS, these infections are often severe and sometimes fatal because the immune system is so ravaged by HIV that the body cannot fight off certain bacteria, viruses, fungi, parasites, and other microbes.
In children younger than 13 years, the definition of AIDS is similar to that of adolescents and adults, except that lymphoid interstitial pneumonitis and recurrent bacterial infections are included in the list of AIDS-defining conditions.
In many developing countries, where diagnostic facilities may be minimal, epidemiologists employ a case definition based on the presence of various clinical symptoms associated with immune deficiency and the exclusion of other known causes of immunosuppression, such as cancer or malnutrition
Symptoms of opportunistic infections common in people with AIDS include;
Children with AIDS may get the same opportunistic infections as do adults with the disease. In addition, they also have severe forms of the bacterial infections all children may get, such as conjunctivitis (pink eye), ear infections, and tonsillitis.
People with AIDS are particularly prone to developing various cancers, especially those caused by viruses such as Kaposi's sarcoma and cervical cancer, or cancers of the immune system known as lymphomas. These cancers are usually more aggressive and difficult to treat in people with AIDS. Signs of Kaposi's sarcoma in light-skinned people are round brown, reddish, or purple spots that develop in the skin or in the mouth. In dark-skinned people, the spots are more pigmented.
During the course of HIV infection, most people experience a gradual decline in the number of CD4 positive T cells, although some may have abrupt and dramatic drops in their CD4 positive T-cell counts. A person with CD4 positive T cells above 200 may experience some of the early symptoms of HIV disease. Others may have no symptoms even though their CD4 positive T-cell count is below 200.
Many people are so debilitated by the symptoms of AIDS that they cannot hold steady employment or do household chores. Other people with AIDS may experience phases of intense life-threatening illness followed by phases in which they function normally.
A small number of people first infected with HIV 10 or more years ago have not developed symptoms of AIDS. Scientists are trying to determine what factors may account for their lack of progression to AIDS, such as particular characteristics of their immune systems or whether they were infected with a less aggressive strain of the virus, or if their genes may protect them from the effects of HIV. Scientists hope that understanding the body's natural method of control may lead to ideas for protective HIV vaccines and use of vaccines to prevent the disease from progressing.
If you believe for any reason whatsoever that you may have been exposed to HIV or AIDS, then you owe it to yourself to get tested immediately.
Today there are several choices that you have regarding how and where to get tested. One of the first issues to confront is that of "Anonymous" vs. "Confidential" testing.
In most states, you can find testing sites that offer either "Anonymous" or "Confidential" HIV testing.
Anonymous testing is available in certain locations but is most common with and through FDA Approved HIV home testing kits such as the ones offered through AidsFactSheet.com. Anonymous testing uses code numbers or passwords to identify your test. Your full name is never used. You use the code to get your results within 3-7 days (depending on test purchased) via telephone. You are the only person who knows your results. With anonymous testing, you get to decide who to tell and when and best of all is that your name is never associated with the test result. It is completely Anonymous. You may want to obtain an Anonymous test before any number of life changing events such as entering into a sexual relationship, getting married, getting pregnant, applying for a job, life or health insurance, or joining a club or organization (military, peace corp, sports team, etc) that might test your blood for other reasons. As mentioned above, it is far better to know your status in advance so you can manage your life accordingly.
With Confidential testing, your name is used. Therefore, your name and other identifying information is attached to your test results, but kept private. However, health care providers, your insurance company, and, in some states, the local and/or state health department will have access to your test results, mostly for statistical purposes.
Some people prefer to get tested for HIV without having it listed in their medical record or insurance file. Be sure to find out who will have access to your test results before you get tested. A few testing sites offer the test for free, while others charge a fee for the test. Before getting tested, make sure to ask if there is a fee involved AND whether the testing is "Anonymous" or "Confidential".
Where to go to get tested
Depending on where you live, you can get tested at any of several places. Testing may be offered at your local:
To find a testing site near you, call the National Centers for Disease Control STD/HIV Hotline at (800) 342-2437. They offer nationwide (USA) test site referrals, counseling, literature (upon request), clinical trials information referrals, and a wide scope of other HIV/AIDS/STD/TB-related resource information. This is a 24-hour, confidential hotline.
You can also find a testing location online through the National HIV Resources website.
It is important to get tested at a place that also offers counseling about HIV and AIDS. Counselors can answer questions you may have about risky behavior and ways to protect yourself and others in the future. In addition, counselors can help you understand the meaning of test results and tell you about HIV/AIDS resources in your area.
HIV tests can tell if you have been infected with HIV. When HIV infection occurs, the body develops antibodies to the virus. The HIV test checks to see if your body is making these antibodies. It doesn't test for AIDS.
There are three different ways to be tested for HIV. A blood sample can be taken from your finger or arm, (most common) fluids can be taken from cells in the mouth, (less common) or a urine sample may be used instead (least common). Then the sample is tested for HIV antibodies. If HIV antibodies are found, the sample is tested again. Then a different test is used to confirm the results. If tested at a clinic or hospital, it usually takes about a week or two to get your results unless they are using the new rapid test in which test results can be delivered while you wait.
A positive test result means that your body is making HIV antibodies. If the test finds antibodies, that means you are infected with HIV. It doesn't mean you have AIDS or will get sick soon.
A negative test result means no HIV antibodies were found in your body. But, you could still be infected if you have been exposed to HIV in the last six months. Your body may not have made enough HIV antibodies to show up yet. Consider getting tested again in a few months.
If you test positive...
If you test negative...
When to test…
Most people will develop detectable antibodies within 3 months after infection, the average being 25 days. In rare cases, it can take up to 6 months.
Our recommendation is that if you think you’ve been exposed to HIV/AIDS you should seek testing immediately for your own peace of mind. However, if that test comes back negative (which they frequently do at this early stage), you should have another test in three months and then one more test six months after that, assuming the second test was negative. If all three tests come back negative, you can feel relatively sure that you are in fact HIV negative.
Remember, if you regularly engage in risky behavior such as unprotected sex, sharing needles, etc., then the American International AIDS Foundation recommends that you get tested at least every six months.
When HIV/AIDS first surfaced in the United States, there were no medicines to combat the underlying immune deficiency and few treatments existed for the opportunistic diseases that resulted. During the past 10 years, however, researchers have developed drugs to fight both HIV infection and its associated infections and cancers.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved a number of drugs for treating HIV infection. The first group of drugs used to treat HIV infection, called nucleoside reverse transcriptase (RT) inhibitors, interrupts an early stage of the virus making copies of itself. Included in this class of drugs (called nucleoside analogs) are AZT, ddC (zalcitabine), ddI (dideoxyinosine), d4T (stavudine), 3TC (lamivudine), abacavir (ziagen), and tenofovir (viread). These drugs may slow the spread of HIV in the body and delay the start of opportunistic infections.
Health care providers can prescribe non-nucleoside reverse transcriptase inhibitors (NNRTIs), such as delvaridine (Rescriptor), nevirapine (Viramune), and efravirenz (Sustiva), in combination with other antiretroviral drugs.
More recently, the FDA has approved a second class of drugs for treating HIV infection. These drugs, called protease inhibitors, interrupt virus replication at a later step in its life cycle. They include
Because HIV can become resistant to any of these drugs, health care providers must use a combination treatment to effectively suppress the virus. When RT inhibitors and protease inhibitors are used in combination, it is referred to as highly active antiretroviral therapy, or HAART, and can be used by people who are newly infected with HIV as well as people with AIDS.
Researchers have credited HAART as being a major factor in significantly reducing the number of deaths from AIDS in the USA. While HAART is not a cure for AIDS, it has greatly improved the health of many people with AIDS and it reduces the amount of virus circulating in the blood to nearly undetectable levels. Researchers, however, have shown that HIV remains present in hiding places, such as the lymph nodes, brain, testes, and retina of the eye, even in patients who have been treated.
Despite the beneficial effects of HAART, there are side effects associated with the use of antiviral drugs that can be severe. Some of the nucleoside RT inhibitors may cause a decrease of red or white blood cells, especially when taken in the later stages of the disease. Some may also cause inflammation of the pancreas and painful nerve damage. There have been reports of complications and other severe reactions, including death, to some of the antiretroviral nucleoside analogs when used alone or in combination. Therefore, health care experts recommend that people on antiretroviral therapy be routinely seen and followed by their health care providers. The most common side effects associated with protease inhibitors include nausea, diarrhea, and other gastrointestinal symptoms. In addition, protease inhibitors can interact with other drugs resulting in serious side effects.
A number of drugs are available to help treat opportunistic infections to which people with HIV are especially prone. These drugs include;
In addition to antiretroviral therapy, health care providers treat adults with HIV, whose CD4+ T-cell counts drop below 200, to prevent the occurrence of PCP, which is one of the most common and deadly opportunistic infections associated with HIV. They give children PCP preventive therapy when their CD4+ T-cell counts drop to levels considered below normal for their age group. Regardless of their CD4+ T-cell counts, HIV-infected children and adults who have survived an episode of PCP take drugs for the rest of their lives to prevent a recurrence of the pneumonia.
HIV-infected individuals who develop Kaposi's sarcoma or other cancers are treated with radiation, chemotherapy, or injections of alpha interferon, a genetically engineered naturally occurring protein.
Abstinence from sex is the surest way to avoid HIV/AIDS, and other STDs. Many young people - gay, straight, or bisexual - choose activities other than sex to show affection, such as hugging, kissing, talking, and massage. If you do choose to be sexually active, be responsible and protect yourself and your partner. The basic rule is that you should use a latex (or polyurethane, if you're allergic to latex) barrier EVERY TIME there is a potential exchange of fluids. Here's a breakdown of how to have safer sex. These methods aren't risk free, but if they are used every time you have sex you will significantly reduce your risk. Be sure to use each barrier only once, and only use water-based lubricant, as other lubricants can make the barriers ineffective.
Vagina/Penis Intercourse (inserting a penis into a vagina): Use a latex/polyurethane condom to reduce the risk of HIV transmission and pregnancy. For best results, use another form of birth control (the pill, etc) combined with a condom.
Anal Intercourse (inserting a penis into an anus): Use a latex or polyurethane condom and plenty of water-based lubricant.
Oral Sex (touching someone's vagina or penis with the mouth): On a penis, use a non-lubricated or flavored latex or polyurethane condom. On a vagina, use a latex barrier, such as a dental dam, glyde dam, or cut-open condom, or you can put plastic wrap in between the mouth and the vagina.
Oral/Anal Sex (touching someone's anus with the mouth): use a latex barrier, such as a dental dam, glyde dam, or cut-open condom, or you can put plastic wrap in between the mouth and the anus.
Manual Sex (using your hands): use a latex barrier like surgical gloves.
Sharing a Sex Toy: You should either use your own sex toys, or make sure to put a condom on the toy, and change condoms in between partners. If you have a toy made of silicone, you can boil it for 3 minutes to sterilize it in between partners.
There are lots of ways to share love and sexual feelings with your partner that are safe, such as:
Of course it also goes without saying that not sharing needles (or doing drugs at all) will assuredly prevent you from contracting any disease.
In summary, we acknowledge that young people are going to be sexually active and that’s human nature. However, we also implore these same young people to use every precaution available to them as we’ve outlined on this page and equally important is to share this wisdom with their friends.
It is the sad reality that if AIDS continues to grow unchecked throughout the globe, millions of people will lose their lives and entire nations will be greatly affected and indeed the entire world. We at American International AIDS Foundation are determined to keep the world informed on the current statistics of this horrible disease and hope that our readers will feel the same sense of urgency in dealing with AIDS that we feel.
The research staff at American International AIDS Foundation worked overtime in assembling the most currently available statistics from various sources and is proud to bring you this comprehensive analysis of the most up-to-date information. In most cases, when a statistic is quoted, we have provided a link to the source of that information so that you can conduct further research.
11. Worldwide Statistics < top > - < next >
Since there are hundreds (and perhaps thousands) of different issues and unique situations regarding HIV/AIDS, we have created a Frequently Asked Questions section called "From our Viewers" where real viewers ask real questions (some very interesting questions indeed) and we do our best to provide easy to understand answers.
So, for more questions and answers (from the basic to the bizarre) about HIV and AIDS, please go to our "From our Viewers" Section.
In addition, we have created the "Official Directory of AIDS sites" that contains links to some of the most interesting and informative websites in the world. We encourage you to visit this section and take a tour around the world of other organization’s sites.
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