A: AIDS is a chronic
illness due to HIV infection. AIDS slowly destroys the immune system -- the
body's natural defense against infection -- making the body less and less
able to ward off disease.
what point does HIV infection become AIDS?
person is considered to have progressed from HIV infection to AIDS after
developing an "opportunistic" infection or tumor (one that might
not have developed if HIV had not been present) or a "helper"
T-cell count in the blood of less than 200. "Helper" T-cells help
infection-fighting antibodies to form in the blood -- and are the cells
killed or weakened by the HIV virus. A healthy person has a helper T-cell
count of 600-1,000.
Who has the highest risk of getting AIDS?
Anyone who has multiple sex partners, regardless of sexual preferences; IV
drug users who share needles; people with the blood disease hemophilia who
were given so-called "clotting factor" preparations between 1977
and April 1985, when screening of donated blood began; anyone who received a
blood transfusion before April 1985; and newborn babies whose mothers are
How is AIDS treated?
Several drugs have been developed to fight AIDS by inhibiting the growth of
the HIV virus: zidovudine (also called AZT), didanosine, zalcitabine,
lamivudine and stavudine, along with others. AZT is the drug doctors use most
for starting treatment of HIV or AIDS when symptoms are present, and it's
also used in HIV-positive patients to help delay the onset of AIDS. A new
class of drugs, called protease inhibitors (like indinavir), has proved
effective in lowering the amount of HIV virus in the blood for longer periods
of time. Researchers are still seeking a vaccine for AIDS. The best
"vaccine," of course, is avoidance of the activities that increase
the risk of developing AIDS.
I've heard that many people with HIV and AIDS are living longer now. Why is
One reason is a form of therapy using three powerful drugs -- called triple
therapy, or highly active antiretroviral therapy (HAART). This therapy is
strong enough to reduce HIV infection in a person's body to low levels and
maintain those levels longer than was possible before. Another factor in
improved survival -- and quality of life -- for HIV-infected people is the
reduced occurrence of serious secondary, or opportunistic, infections. These
used to be inevitable because HIV infection severely impairs the body's ability
to fight infections, and many HIV-infected patients died from them despite
treatment with antibiotics. Today, doctors can use antibiotics preventively
in HIV-infected patients, stopping many secondary infections before they can
What makes people die from HIV infection and AIDS?
HIV doesn't kill anybody directly. Instead, it weakens the body's ability to
fight disease. Infections that only rarely occur in people with normal immune
systems can and do kill people with HIV infection. These people are said to
have AIDS when they are sick with serious illnesses and infections related to
the immunity-destroying effects of HIV. These illnesses tend to occur late in
HIV infection and often cause death.