What Causes HIV and AIDS?

HIV (Human Immunodeficiency Virus) is the virus that causes AIDS (Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome). HIV weakens the immune system by attacking and destroying CD4 T cells, which play a crucial role in the body’s defense against infections. AIDS is the final stage of HIV infection, characterized by severe immune system damage and the inability to fend off opportunistic infections and certain cancers.

HIV is primarily transmitted through the following means:

  • Unprotected Sexual Contact: The virus can be transmitted through unprotected sexual intercourse with an infected person. This includes vaginal, anal, and oral sex.
  • Contaminated Blood: HIV can be transmitted through the exchange of contaminated blood. This can occur through sharing needles among intravenous drug users, receiving contaminated blood products or organ transplants, and, in some cases, through occupational exposure in healthcare settings.
  • Mother-to-Child Transmission: HIV can be transmitted from an infected mother to her child during childbirth, through breastfeeding, or during pregnancy.
  • Needlestick Injuries: Healthcare workers may be at risk of contracting HIV through accidental needlestick injuries while handling HIV-infected blood.
  • Unprotected Anal or Vaginal Intercourse: Anal intercourse poses a higher risk of HIV transmission compared to vaginal intercourse. The risk is also higher for the receptive partner.

It’s important to note that HIV is not transmitted through casual contact such as hugging, kissing, sharing utensils, or through insect bites. Additionally, HIV cannot survive for long periods outside the human body, making casual environmental contact a low-risk factor for transmission.

Preventive measures, such as practicing safe sex, using clean needles, and getting tested and treated for HIV, can significantly reduce the risk of transmission. Antiretroviral therapy (ART) is the primary treatment for HIV, helping to control the virus, prevent the progression to AIDS, and improve the overall health of individuals living with HIV. Early detection and management are crucial for a better prognosis and quality of life for those with HIV.