HIV infection and AIDS

HIV destroys cells involved in the immune response

HIV destroys cells involved in the immune response

HIV (Human Immune-deficiency Virus) is, like the name implies, a virus adversely affecting the immune system of humans. It is a sexually transmitted disease because it is mainly acquired through sexual intercourse with an infected individual. When a person with HIV has reached a certain point in the disease, usually known as the final stage of the disease, they are then said to have AIDS (Acquired Immunodeficiency Disease Syndrome). HIV causes AIDS. Somebody with AIDS has HIV, but someone with HIV does not necessary have AIDS yet.

HIV is considered to be a world-wide pandemic. Since the discovery of HIV in 1981 it is estimated that it has been responsible for over 36 million deaths worldwide. The country with the highest number of infected individuals is South Africa with approximately 5,6 million persons infected. The United States is also on the list of top 10 countries affected by HIV with an approximate total of 1,2 million people infected with the virus. 70% of the people infected with HIV come from Africa.

The reason that the Sub-Saharan Africa countries are so affected is due to a few different factors. Many African cultures encourage polygamy and having more than one sexual partner at a time is considered normal. Women have also not yet gained as much respect and they often fear denying sex to their husband or boyfriend because it is not their place to deny sex. South Africa also has high rates of rape and sexual abuse which can also contribute to spread of the infection. Poverty is usually accompanied with poor education and higher rates of prostitution. This also increases the rate of HIV transmission.

HIV and AIDS result in obvious disease, suffering and death. It is also very bad for the economy and for the social well-being of the community. The younger, working sector of the population is usually affected which results in a loss of the main caregivers and bread winners. This means many families are destroyed and children are left to fend for themselves. Grandparents often have to care for many of their grandchildren even when they themselves only earn a very small pension. It is very sad to see the effect of HIV on a community.

HIV destroys cells involved in the immune response. These cells are known as CD4 cells. The more CD4 cells are infected with the virus, the lower the infected individual’s immune system is and the more susceptible they will be to contracting other illnesses and conditions. Normal CD4 count in people who do not have HIV is generally between 600 and 1000.

Some people who acquire the virus progress fast which mean they quickly develop severe symptoms and without treatment can die within 3 years. Other people progress more slowly and take a longer time to develop any severe symptoms and without treatment might only die after 15 years of acquiring the virus. Life expectancy is much improved when taking Anti-retro-viral medication. According to research a 20 year old person who is diagnosed with HIV and started on treatment before their CD4 count is under 350 may have a life-expectancy of 70 years! Treatment of HIV has greatly advanced and improved during the last 7 years.

HIV infection still has a certain stigma associated with it. Initially it was associated only with gay men and drug users but recently, especially in African countries, it can affect anyone. The stigma and over-confidentiality associated with HIV is slowly fading as people become more open about speaking about how HIV is acquired and what it means to be HIV positive.