AIDS HIV, Human Immunodeficiency Virus, Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome



Q: What is AIDS? 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.

Q: At what point does HIV infection become AIDS?
A 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.

Q: Who has the highest risk of getting AIDS?

A: Anyone who has multiple life partners, regardless of 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 HIV-positive.

Q: How is AIDS treated?
Several antiviral drugs have been developed to fight AIDS by inhibiting the growth of the HIV virus.  This treatment is known as antiretroviral therapy (ART). ART isnít a cure, but it can control the the birth of virus so that you can live a happier, longer life. ART involves taking a combination of HIV medicines every day. Having less HIV in your body gives your immune system a chance to recover and fight off infections and cancers. Even though there is still some HIV in the body, the immune system is strong enough to fight off infections and cancers. By reducing the amount of HIV in your body, HIV medicines also reduce the risk of transmitting the virus to others. 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.

Q: I've heard that many people with HIV and AIDS are living longer now. Why is that?
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 start.

Q: 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.



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