The saddest incurable disease facing the world today is cancer. But the scariest is the HIV/AIDS virus. It is scary because it is a disease that humans can protect themselves from and for the most part choose not to. HIV stands for human immunodeficiency virus and it attacks the T cells in our bodies. HIV interferes with our body’s ability to effectively fight viruses that cause diseases. HIV virus leads to AIDS acquired immune deficiency syndrome, which is a chronic and life threatening condition.
Nationally HIV/AIDS became known in the early 1980’s but studies have shown that HIV/AIDS has been around since the 1950’s. It is said that AIDS originated in Africa. For the most part it is a disease that originated from monkeys. There are many stories of how this virus came about. One story rumored is that a monkey in Africa, infected with the HIV virus, stepped on a rock and slit the bottom of his foot leaving infected blood on the rock. Then a man walking the same path stepped on the same rock and the original blood mixed in his wound. No one really knows how it all started; the best explanation the book gives is human consumption of animal meat. Nonetheless HIV/AIDS is a serious disease that is killing America little by little. HIV/AIDS is a preventable disease, which is that everyone, if given the right education, can protect himself or herself. HIV is transmitted through heterosexual and/or homosexual contact with an infected partner; through intravenous drug use; (although less likely today) through blood transfusion, and lastly from mother to baby by crossing placenta during pregnancy or breast-feeding. The best protection during sexual contact is not to have sex, but if sex is happening the most effective protection is condoms. For intravenous drug users the best protection is to stop using drugs but if that’s not possible then clean needles should always be used and no needle sharing should be practiced. So far there is no cure for AIDS but there is a drug therapy currently available.
HIV infection attacks the immune system in three phases. HIV attacks first in the acute phase; there are no symptoms in this phase, the infected person does not feel sick but they are highly infectious. Then there is the chronic phase where the infected person is becoming weaker and physical signs are seen and finally the last stage is declared and that is the AIDS phase where the infected person is extremely weak and becomes vulnerable to opportunistic infections. It concentrates the bodies T lymphocytes or CD4 cells. T cells display a molecule called CD4 on their surface. T cells stimulate the B cells to produce antibodies. As you will see when HIV attacks the CD4 T cells (T helpers) they are destroyed and then the B cells will not function in producing antibodies. Therefore the HIV virus continues to mutate until the bodies immune system is completely destroyed. No one will die from AIDS, they will die from the complications of the opportunistic infection.
Category A is the acute phase, it is the beginning phase of HIV. This is when a person becomes infected. The infected person has no symptoms but their CD4 count ranges from 500-800. Note that normal CD4 count is 800-1200. Some people may present some symptoms such as a mild fever, sweating, enlarged tonsils, and weight loss. But these symptoms quickly go away. At this stage clinical test will come back negative because these test are looking for antibodies not for the HIV virus itself. This is why the acute phase is where the infected person is considered to be highly infectious. After a certain period of time the body responds to the infection by increase activity of CD4 cells which will give a positive test result. At this time the CD4 cells are larger than the viral load, that is HIV particle in the blood. At this stage the body is going through the “kitchen sink model,” where CD4 cells are being produced like a faucet to fight off the HIV infection. But even though the body is working hard producing CD4 cells the immune system is still strong enough to deal with the HIV infection.
After a while the infected person moves on to category B, the chronic phase. In this phase the CD4 count is between 200-499. Symptoms become more apparent in this phase such as swollen lymph nodes, unexpected fatigue and constant fevers, coughs and night sweats. There are also some signs of impairment on the nervous system, which include loss of memory, inability to think clearly and depression. Usually when the infected individual develops recurrent infections, such as thrush or ulcers on the tongue or in women vaginal fungal infections, they are moving on to the last category of the disease and that is full-blown AIDS.
The last phase of this disease is when the infected individual moves from HIV to full-blown AIDS. In this phase the CD4 count has dropped below 200. During this phase is when the infected individual is vulnerable to one of the opportunistic infections, which will eventually breakdown the body, resulting in death. Opportunistic infection is an infection that has the opportunity to occur only because the immune system is not functioning. HIV infected individuals do not die from HIV infection or full-blown AIDS they die from complications of these opportunistic infections such as Pneumocystis Carinii pneumonia, this is where the lungs becomes useless and filled up with fluids; Mycobacterium tuberculosis, this a bacterial infection of the lungs; and lastly Kaposi’s sarcoma, an unusual cancer of the blood vessels.