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Home > Conditions and Diseases Immune Disorders > Immune Deficiency > AIDS
 
 
Human Immunodeficiency Virus Infection / Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome (HIV/AIDS) is a disease of the human immune system caused by infection with human immunodeficiency virus (HIV). During the initial infection, a person may experience a brief period of influenza-like illness. This is typically followed by a prolonged period without symptoms. As the illness progresses, it interferes more and more with the immune system, making the person much more likely to get infections, including opportunistic infections and tumors that do not usually affect people who have working immune systems.
HIV is transmitted primarily via unprotected sexual intercourse (including anal and even oral sex), contaminated blood transfusions, hypodermic needles, and from mother to child during pregnancy, delivery, or breastfeeding. Some bodily fluids, such as saliva and tears, do not transmit HIV. Prevention of HIV infection, primarily through safe sex and needle-exchange programs, is a key strategy to control the spread of the disease. There is no cure or vaccine; however, antiretroviral treatment can slow the course of the disease and may lead to a near-normal life expectancy. While antiretroviral treatment reduces the risk of death and complications from the disease, these medications are expensive and may be associated with side effects.
Genetic research indicates that HIV originated in west-central Africa during the early twentieth century. AIDS was first recognized by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in 1981 and its cause-HIV infection-was identified in the early part of the decade. Since its discovery, AIDS has caused an estimated 36 million deaths (as of 2012). As of 2012, approximately 35.3 million people are living with HIV globally. HIV/AIDS is considered a pandemic-a disease outbreak which is present over a large area and is actively spreading.
HIV/AIDS has had a great impact on society, both as an illness and as a source of discrimination. The disease also has significant economic impacts. There are many misconceptions about HIV/AIDS such as the belief that it can be transmitted by casual non-sexual contact. The disease has also become subject to many controversies involving religion. It has attracted international medical and political attention as well as large-scale funding since it was identified in the 1980s.
 

There are three main stages of HIV infection: acute infection, clinical latency and AIDS.

1.) Acute infection


The initial period following the contraction of HIV is called acute HIV, primary HIV or acute retroviral syndrome. Many individuals develop an influenza-like illness or a mononucleosis-like illness 2-4 weeks post exposure while others have no significant symptoms. Symptoms occur in 40-90% of cases and most commonly include fever, large tender lymph nodes, throat inflammation, a rash, headache, and/or sores of the mouth and genitals. The rash, which occurs in 20-50% of cases, presents itself on the trunk and is maculopapular, classically. Some people also develop opportunistic infections at this stage. Gastrointestinal symptoms such as nausea, vomiting or diarrhea may occur, as may neurological symptoms of peripheral neuropathy or Guillain-Barre syndrome. The duration of the symptoms varies, but is usually one or two weeks. Due to their nonspecific character, these symptoms are not often recognized as signs of HIV infection. Even cases that do get seen by a family doctor or a hospital are often misdiagnosed as one of the many common infectious diseases with overlapping symptoms. Thus, it is recommended that HIV be considered in patients presenting an unexplained fever who may have risk factors for the infection.

2.) Clinical Latency

The initial symptoms are followed by a stage called clinical latency, asymptomatic HIV, or chronic HIV. Without treatment, this second stage of the natural history of HIV infection can last from about three years to over 20 years (on average, about eight years). While typically there are few or no symptoms at first, near the end of this stage many people experience fever, weight loss, gastrointestinal problems and muscle pains. Between 50 and 70% of people also develop persistent generalized lymphadenopathy, characterized by unexplained, non-painful enlargement of more than one group of lymph nodes (other than in the groin) for over three to six months. Although most HIV-1 infected individuals have a detectable viral load and in the absence of treatment will eventually progress to AIDS, a small proportion (about 5%) retain high levels of CD4+ T cells (T helper cells) without antiretroviral therapy for more than 5 years. These individuals are classified as HIV controllers or long-term nonprogressors (LTNP). Another group is those who also maintain a low or undetectable viral load without anti-retroviral treatment who are known as "elite controllers" or "elite suppressors". They represent approximately 1 in 300 infected persons.

3.) Acquired immunodeficiency syndrome

Acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS) is defined in terms of either a CD4+ T cell count below 200 cells per ÁL or the occurrence of specific diseases in association with an HIV infection. In the absence of specific treatment, around half of people infected with HIV develop AIDS within ten years. The most common initial conditions that alert to the presence of AIDS are pneumocystis pneumonia (40%), cachexia in the form of HIV wasting syndrome (20%) and esophageal candidiasis. Other common signs include recurring respiratory tract infections. Opportunistic infections may be caused by bacteria, viruses, fungi and parasites that are normally controlled by the immune system. Which infections occur partly depends on what organisms are common in the person's environment. These infections may affect nearly every organ system. People with AIDS have an increased risk of developing various viral induced cancers including Kaposi's sarcoma, Burkitt's lymphoma, primary central nervous system lymphoma, and cervical cancer. Kaposi's sarcoma is the most common cancer occurring in 10 to 20% of people with HIV. The second most common cancer is lymphoma which is the cause of death of nearly 16% of people with AIDS and is the initial sign of AIDS in 3 to 4%. Both these cancers are associated with human herpesvirus 8. Cervical cancer occurs more frequently in those with AIDS due to its association with human papillomavirus (HPV). Additionally, people with AIDS frequently have systemic symptoms such as prolonged fevers, sweats (particularly at night), swollen lymph nodes, chills, weakness, and weight loss. Diarrhea is another common symptom present in about 90% of people with AIDS. They can also be affected by diverse psychiatric and neurological symptoms independent of opportunistic infections and cancers.

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