In 1981, a new fatal, infectious disease was diagnosed–AIDS (Acquired Immuno-Deficiency Syndrome). It began in major cities, such as New York, Los Angeles, Miami, and San Francisco. People, mostly homosexual men and intravenous drug users, were dying from very rare lung infections or from a cancer known as Kaposi’s sarcoma. They have not seen people getting these diseases in numerous years. Soon, it also affected hemophiliacs, blood recipients, prostitutes and their customers, and babies born from AIDS-infected women. AIDS was soon recognized as a worldwide health emergency, and as a fatal disease with no known cure, that quickly became an epidemic. When high-profile victims began to contract the virus, such as basketball star Magic Johnson, the feeling spread quickly that anyone, not just particular groups of people, could be at risk.
AIDS impairs the human body’s immune system and leaves the victim susceptible to various infections. With new research, scientists think that the disease was first contracted through a certain type of green monkey in Africa, then somehow mutated into a virus that a human could get. AIDS is a complicated illness that may involve several phases. It is caused by a virus that can be passed from person to person. This virus is called HIV, or Human Immuno-deficiency Virus. In order for HIV to become full-blown AIDS, your T-cell count (number of a special type of white-blood cells that fight off diseases) has to drop below 200, or you have to get one of the symptoms of an AIDS-induced infection.
Most people recently infected by the AIDS virus look and feel healthy. They may not show symptoms for several years, but the condition is eventually fatal. Even though one might not know that they have this deathly disease, and remain apparently healthy, they can still pass it along to others, and they then pass it on to others, etc, until an abundant amount of people are infected. Symptoms may include fever, fatigue, weight loss, skin rashes, a fungal infection of the mouth known as thrush, lack of resistance to infection, and swollen lymph nodes.
HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, is transmitted through blood, semen, and vaginal fluid. The virus is usually transferred through sexual intercourse, the transfusion of virus-contaminated blood, or the sharing of HIV-contaminated intravenous needles. HIV cannot penetrate intact bodily surfaces, such as skin, and quickly perishes outside the human body. Consequently, AIDS is not spread by casual physical contact. The virus has been found in tears and saliva, but it exists there in such low concentrations that transmission from these body fluids is extremely rare. There are no known cases of AIDS transmission by insects such as mosquitoes or by domestic animals.
The AIDS virus causes so much damage to the immune system that the body becomes open to a variety of opportunistic infections, which are infections that are less harmful to people with normal immune systems, but that take advantage of the breakdown in an AIDS sufferers immune system to produce devastating and eventually lethal diseases. Among the most frequently occurring opportunistic infections are tuberculosis, a type of pneumonia. AIDS sufferers are also more likely to develop certain tumors, particularly Kaposi’s sarcoma, which is an unusual and uncommon form of cancer. The AIDS virus may also attack the nervous system and cause brain and eye damage.
Usually, when the AIDS virus enters the bloodstream, the body’s immune system produces antibodies to battle the microorganism. A blood test, known as ELISA test, can detect these antibodies and therefore can indicate exposure to the virus. However, these tests can occasionally give false readings if the body does not make the antibodies yet. The blood tests only begin to give accurate results within two weeks to three months after infection, during which time an infected person may pass the virus to others. Although there is no known cure for AIDS, there are new drugs and medicines that prolong the lives of some HIV-infected patients. These drugs slow down the advancement and progression of the virus for a few months, and sometimes more.
The search for a successful vaccine was, and still is today, pursued in laboratories all around the world. The federal government has already committed more than two billion dollars to research. Meanwhile, the disease continues to spread to different parts of the world. In the United States alone, there are more than 65,000 new cases being reported each year. Since its discovery, AIDS has become one of the world’s major health problems.