AIDS - Experience

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What does AIDS stand for? What causes AIDS?

AIDS stands for "acquired immunodeficiency syndrome." AIDS is caused by the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) and is the most advanced stage of HIV infection.

The virus is spread through contact with infected blood or infected fluids such as sexual secretions (stage 1). Over time, the virus attacks the immune system, focusing on special cells called "CD4 cells" which are important in protecting the body from infections and cancers, and the number of these cells starts to fall (stage 2). Eventually, the CD4 cells fall to a critical level and/or the immune system is weakened so much that it can no longer fight off certain types of infections and cancers. This advanced stage of infection (stage 3) with HIV is called AIDS.

HIV is a very small virus that contains ribonucleic acid (RNA) as its genetic material. When HIV infects animal cells, it uses a special enzyme, reverse transcriptase, to turn (transcribe) its RNA into DNA. (Viruses that use reverse transcriptase are sometimes referred to as "retroviruses.") When HIV reproduces, it is prone to making small genetic mistakes or mutations, resulting in viruses that vary slightly from each other. This ability to create minor variations allows HIV to evade the body's immunologic defenses, essentially leading to lifelong infection, and has made it difficult to make an effective vaccine. The mutations also allow HIV to become resistant to medications.

Return to Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome

See what others are saying

Comment from: MASTER MAT, 55-64 Male (Patient) Published: May 28

I have been living with HIV for over 30 years. I was diagnosed in 1983. It is not easy; in fact it's hard. You take medication, and then deal with the side effects. Anyone who is HIV positive should be in treatment. When I was first sick, it did not even have a name, and we did not know it was a retrovirus. The point is, soon, hopefully, there will be a cure. In the meantime, we must try to reduce new infections, through safe sex practices and early treatment. Waiting until someone is sick from HIV is the wrong way to go. It's like calling the fire department only when you see the house is burning down. As soon as you see smoke you call. Getting an HIV test is the first step to staying healthy.

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