HIV (human immunodeficiency virus) is a virus that gradually attacks the immune system. The body finds it harder and harder to fight off common infections as the disease gradually progresses. The virus destroys white blood cells (CD4). These cells are responsible for combating infections; another name for them is T-lymphocytes.
There are many different strains, someone who is infected may carry different strains in their body. The two main types are HIV-1 and HIV-2. HIV-1 is the most common type found worldwide whereas HIV-2 is limited to Western Africa, with very few cases in India and Europe. Symptoms make take around 10-15 years to emerge and by then the HIV would have already caused significant harm to the immune system.
HIV is found in the following body fluids of an infected person: semen, blood, vaginal secretions and breast milk. Risk of infection is increased when using infected needles, syringes or any other methods which include the crossover of blood. It is spread primarily by unprotected sex. HIV, however, cannot be transmitted through saliva, sweat or urine.
AIDS (acquired immune deficiency syndrome) is a syndrome caused by the HIV virus. AIDS develops when the HIV infection has significantly progressed. This is the last stage of HIV infection where the body can no longer defend itself and may thus develop various diseases. These include pneumonia, fungal infections and any type of opportunistic infection. There is also an increased risk of developing other life-limiting conditions including cancer and brain illnesses.
Methods of prevention: safe sex; no sharing of any instruments in contact with blood.
There is currently no cure for HIV or AIDS. However with the right treatment and support, patients can live long and healthy lives.