HIV (Human Immunodeficiency Virus) is the virus that causes AIDS (Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome), a disease that affects over 33 million people around the world. When HIV enters the body, it attacks the immune system by destroying CD4 positive (CD4+) T cells, a type of white blood cell necessary to fight off infections, and it also kills off nearby cells with toxic byproducts. Eventually, it overwhelms the immune system's ability to fix itself (AEGIS, 2012). When HIV/AIDS first showed up in the United States, it mostly affected homosexual men. Now, though, it’s clear that anyone of any age, race, gender, or sexual orientation can become infected – around the world, 85% of HIV transmission is through heterosexual intercourse (Nettleman, 2012).
You cannot become infected with HIV through ordinary human contact, such as hugging, closed-mouth kissing, dancing, tears, or shaking hands. You can become infected in a number of other ways, though, such as vaginal, anal, or oral sex with an infected partner, especially if you don’t use a condom (the virus enters the body through sores or small tears that develop during sexual activity); blood transfusions; or sharing needles, syringes, or other drug equipment contaminated with infected blood. In addition, infected mothers can transmit the virus to their babies during pregnancy or delivery, when small amounts of blood may be shared, or through breast-feeding. Other risk factors include having another sexually transmitted disease or, for men, not being circumcised (Mayo Clinic, Risk Factors, 2012).
After the initial, flu-like infection dies down, the HIV virus becomes less active in the body, although it is still present. After a period that can last up to 10 or more years, when the HIV infection becomes active again, it can progress to AIDS. AIDS is diagnosed when the number of CD4+ cells falls below 200 cells per cubic millimeter of blood (200 cells/mm3) – normal CD4+ counts are between 500 and 1,600 cells/mm3. At this stage, patients suffer from fatigue, diarrhea, nausea, vomiting, a fever that can last several weeks, chills and night sweats, and, during the late stages, wasting syndrome – a loss of at least 10% of body weight (AIDS.gov, 2009; Mayo Clinic, Tests and Diagnosis, 2012). Many AIDS patients also suffer from infections that take advantage of the damaged immune system, such as yeast, other viruses, or bacteria. In addition, patients may develop tuberculosis, kidney disease, or even some forms of cancer (Mayo Clinic, Tests and Diagnosis, 2012).
Early in the epidemic (during the 1980s), HIV infection and AIDS were diagnosed for relatively few teenage and adult women. However, today, women make up more than 25% of all new HIV/AIDS cases. Women of color are especially affected by HIV infection and AIDS. In 2004, HIV infection was the leading cause of death for black women aged 25-34 years old and the 3rd leading cause of death for black women aged 35-44 years old. High-risk heterosexual contact was the source of 80% of the newly diagnosed infections for both white women and women of color (CDC, 2008).
Knowing what I do about HIV and AIDS, I would have to say that anyone is at risk for getting this disease, especially if they have unprotected sex or if they share needles or other drug equipment that contains infected blood. It is especially true for women between 25 and 44 years old. I would never have unprotected sex with a partner, especially if I knew they were HIV-positive, and I would not get involved with drugs, especially those that use needles or other reusable equipment. I would also get myself tested if I ever felt that I was exposed to the virus. The Mayo Clinic (Tests and Diagnosis, 2012) says there is no cure for HIV infection, but it outlines treatments, such as different combinations of medications that prevent HIV from making copies of itself. I would speak with my doctor about what would be the best treatment for me.
AIDS Global Education Information System (AEGIS). “Biology of HIV.” National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. 2012. Web. 10 October 2012.
AIDS.gov. “HIV/AIDS Basics.” U.S. Department of Health & Human Services. 2012. Web. 2 October 2012.
“CDC HIV/AIDS Fact Sheet.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 2008. Web. 11 October 2012.
Hahn, D. B., Payne, W.A. & Lucas, E.B. Focus on Health. 10th ed. New York, NY: McGraw-Hill. 2010. Print.
Mayo Clinic Staff. “HIV/AIDS: Risk Factors.” Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research. 11 August 2012.Web. 12 October 2012.
Mayo Clinic Staff. “HIV/AIDS: Tests and Diagnosis.” Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research. 11 August 2012. Web. 2 October 2012.
Nettleman, M. “HIV/AIDS.” eMedicine Health. 2012. Web. 2 October 2012.