What Causes HIV Aids?

Red ribbon with crosswords Aids and HIV

HIV (Human Immunodeficiency Virus) causes AIDS (Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome). HIV is a virus that attacks the immune system, particularly CD4 T cells, which help the immune system fight off infections. Over time, HIV can lead to a weakening of the immune system, making the body susceptible to various opportunistic infections and cancers. Here’s how HIV leads to AIDS:

  1. HIV Transmission: HIV is transmitted through contact with certain body fluids containing the virus. Common modes of transmission include unprotected sexual intercourse, sharing needles and syringes for drug use, and from mother to child during childbirth or breastfeeding. It can also be transmitted through blood transfusions or organ transplants from infected donors, though this is now extremely rare in developed countries due to strict blood screening procedures.
  2. Primary Infection: After entering the body, HIV attacks CD4 T cells and replicates within them. During the primary infection stage, some people may experience flu-like symptoms, while others may not show any symptoms at all. This initial stage is often followed by a period of clinical latency, during which the virus replicates at lower levels and there may be no apparent symptoms.
  3. Immune System Weakening: Over time, HIV continues to reproduce and progressively damages the immune system by killing off CD4 T cells. As the CD4 T cell count decreases, the body’s ability to fight off infections diminishes.
  4. Development of AIDS: AIDS is diagnosed when the immune system is severely compromised, and the CD4 T cell count falls below a certain threshold, typically less than 200 cells/mm³ (normal CD4 T cell count ranges from 500 to 1,600 cells/mm³). At this stage, the immune system is unable to effectively protect the body, and individuals become highly susceptible to opportunistic infections and certain cancers.
  5. Opportunistic Infections and Complications: AIDS is associated with a range of opportunistic infections and complications, including Pneumocystis pneumonia, tuberculosis, fungal infections, certain types of cancer, and severe wasting. These infections and complications can be life-threatening.

It’s important to note that with the advent of antiretroviral therapy (ART), the progression from HIV infection to AIDS has been significantly slowed or even halted in many cases. ART can help suppress HIV replication, allowing the immune system to recover and reducing the risk of developing AIDS and associated complications.

Preventing HIV infection is crucial, and this can be achieved through safe sexual practices, not sharing needles for drug use, and the use of pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) for high-risk individuals. Additionally, early diagnosis and prompt initiation of ART can help individuals with HIV lead healthier lives and reduce the risk of transmitting the virus to others.

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