HIV and AIDS 101


What is HIV and AIDS?

  • HIV stands for Human Immunodeficiency Virus. It is a retrovirus that causes HIV infection. Its entrance into the body lowers the immunity (body defense system) or the ability to fight off disease.

  • HIV Infection is the successful entry of HIV in the human host, weakening the immune system and leading to a spectrum of diseases.

  • AIDS stands for Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome. It is a condition characterized by a combination of signs and symptoms, caused by HIV contracted from another which attacks and weakens the body’s immune system, making the afflicted individual susceptible to other life threatening infection.

How does HIV attack the immune system?

  1. The human body is protected by the White Blood Cells in the immune system.
  2. White Blood Cells in the immune system fight disease and germs for your body.
  3. Strong diseases make the body sick, but the white blood cells usually win in the end.
  4. HIV is a VERY strong germ that attacks the White Blood Cells themselves, weakening the body's defenses against diseases and makes the body vulnerable to potentially life-threatening infections and cancers. HIV then uses human cells to manufacture more of the virus, eventually killing the host & nearby cells and overwhelms the immune system.
  5. After a very long struggle lasting years, HIV kills most of the immune system's White Blood Cells, leaving the body unprotected.
  6. Many other (secondary) diseases attack (bringing about the condition of AIDS) and eventually kill the body.

Solid Facts on HIV and AIDS

HIV is transmitted by:
  • having unprotected sexual intercourse (vaginal, anal or oral), with someone who is HIV positive. Unprotected, penetrative sex accounts for 80% of total exposures to the disease worldwide;
  • having a transfusion with infected blood;
  • sharing syringes and needles with someone who is HIV positive for drugs and tattoos or other skin
    piercing tools such as razor blades and surgical instruments forcircumcision or scarification.
  • mothers to their unborn babies and through breastfeeding.
HIV is NOT transmitted through:
  • Kissing
  • Casual contacts or handshakes
  • Sharing living quarters, eating or drinking with an infected person
  • Mosquitoes and bed bugs.
HIV is transmitted through the following body fluids:
  • Blood
  • Semen
  • Vaginal/Cervical Fluids
  • Breastmilk

Stages of the HIV Disease

  • Stage I: PRIMARY INFECTION
    • The patient starts experiencing “flu-like” symptoms
  • Stage II: ASYMPTOMATIC ILLNESS
    • The patient may remain well for years
  • Stage III: SYMPTOMATIC ILLNESS
    • The patient experiences “mild” symptoms such as lack of energy, nights sweats, etc
  • Stage IV: ADVANCED DISEASES (AIDS)
    • The patient experiences opportunistic infections from bacterial, mycobacterial, fungal, protozoal, viral and malignant sources that can cause any of the following:
      • Swollen glands
      • Mouth infections
      • Brain infections
      • Skin diseases
      • Lung diseases
      • Loss of weight

HIV Detection and Testing

HIV can be detected through the following tests:

  • Antibody test - an indirect test measures the response of one’s body to the presence of HIV
  • Antigen test - a test that directly measures the virus

HIV Testing is voluntary, confidential and anonymous, with pre and post-test counseling. The window period for testing is 6 months from the last exposure with HIV.

There is NO vaccine and NO cure for HIV. Anti-retroviral medication (ARVs) may only slow down the replication of the virus.

The A-B-C-D-E of AIDS Prevention

  • A - Abstinence
  • B - Be faithful (having a mutual monogamous relationship)
  • C - Careful Sex (No exchange of body fluids)
  • D - Don’t share needles/ sterilized needles
  • E - Education and Information

See Related Materials on HIV/AIDS

UNAIDS 2008 Fast Facts Series:

Data from national programmes and other organizations:

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