Facts about Aids

People have been warned about HIV and AIDS for over twenty years now. AIDS has already killed millions of people, millions more continue to become infected with HIV, and there's no cure - so AIDS will be around for a while yet. However, some of us still don't know exactly what HIV and AIDS actually are. What is HIV?

HIV - Human Immunodeficiency VirusHIV is a virus. Viruses infect the cells of living organisms and replicate (make new copies of themselves) within those cells. A virus can damage the cells it replicates in, which is one of the things that can make an infected creature become ill. People can become infected with HIV from other people who already have it, and when they are infected they can then go on to infect other people. Basically, this is how HIV is spread. HIV stands for the 'Human Immunodeficiency Virus'. Someone who is infected with HIV is said to be 'HIV+' or 'HIV positive'. Why is HIV dangerous? The immune system is a group of cells and organs that protect your body by fighting disease. The human immune system usually finds and kills viruses fairly quickly. So if the body's immune system attacks and kills viruses, what's the problem? Different viruses attack different parts of the body - some may attack the skin, others the lungs, and so on.

The common cold is caused by a virus. What makes HIV so dangerous is that it attacks the immune system itself - the very thing that would normally get rid of a virus. It particularly attacks a special type of immune system cell known as a CD4 lymphocyte. HIV has a number of tricks that help it to evade the body's defences, including very rapid mutation. This means that once HIV has taken hold, the immune system can never fully get rid of it. There isn't any way to tell just by looking if someone's been infected by HIV. However a blood test can detect infection from a few weeks after the virus first entered the body. A person infected with HIV may look and feel perfectly well for many years and may not know that they are infected. But as the person's immune system weakens they become increasingly vulnerable to illnesses, many of which they would previously have fought off easily. And what's AIDS? A damaged immune system is not only more vulnerable to HIV, but also to the attacks of other infections. It won't always have the strength to fight off things that wouldn't have bothered it before............ Read more