Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome, AIDS, is caused by the HIV virus. A virus damages cells by injecting its DNA into the cell and replicating itself. HIV, which stands for the Human Immunodeficiency Virus, is a retrovirus that attacks the victim’s immune system cells until it can no longer fight off infections. What makes HIV so dangerous is that it weakens the immune system thereby rendering the body unable to fend off “opportunistic” infections, such as, Pneumocystis carinii pneumonia, Kaposi's sarcoma, Toxoplasma, or Cryptosporidia. When a person is infected with HIV, it does not necessarily mean that he or she has AIDS. AIDS only occurs when the immune system of a person with HIV cannot recover after a very severe disease or infection. With antiretroviral treatment, the length of time for HIV to progress to AIDS is about ten years, based on someone with a reasonable diet. In contrast, in countries where many people are malnourished, the length of time is much shorter.
AIDS can only be transmitted through human bodily fluids like blood, sexual fluid of an infected person, and breast milk of an infected woman. The first cases of AIDS were sexually transmitted. Worldwide, AIDS has spread mainly through blood transfusions. Drug users spread the virus through the sharing infected needles. Infected mothers can also pass the infection to their children during pregnancy or through breastfeeding.
Unfortunately, many people still have misconceptions about how AIDS is transmitted. Many still think that AIDS can be passed on like the common cold. Other common misconceptions are that AIDS can be passed through bug or insect bites, eating food prepared by an infected person, and toilet seats. Sadly, this is the cause of the stigma that many associate with AIDS.
There is no known cure for AIDS. Some people are able to live long lives from taking available antiretroviral medications that can slow down the damage caused by HIV and its progression to AIDS. Researchers have tried developing a vaccine against HIV, but so far their efforts have been unsuccessful. Thus, the best thing to do is to practice prevention techniques.