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Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome or acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS or Aids) is a collection of symptoms and infections resulting from the specific damage to the immune system caused by the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV). The late stage of the condition leaves individuals prone to opportunistic infections and tumors. Although treatments for AIDS and HIV exist to slow the virus's progression, there is no known cure. HIV is transmitted through direct contact of a mucous membrane or the bloodstream with a bodily fluid containing HIV, such as blood, semen, vaginal fluid, preseminal fluid, and breast milk. (And NOT through body fluids like saliva and tears, see references at AIDS.

The symptoms of AIDS are primarily the result of conditions that do not normally develop in individuals with healthy immune systems. Most of these conditions are infections caused by bacteria, viruses, fungi and parasites that are normally controlled by the elements of the immune system that HIV damages.

Opportunistic infections are common in people with AIDS. HIV affects nearly every organ system. People with AIDS also have an increased risk of developing various cancers such as Kaposi's sarcoma, cervical cancer and cancers of the immune system known as lymphomas.

Additionally, people with AIDS often have systemic symptoms of infection like fevers, sweats (particularly at night), swollen glands, chills, weakness, and weight loss. After the diagnosis of AIDS is made, the current average survival time with antiretroviral therapy (as of 2005) is estimated to be more than 5 years, but because new treatments continue to be developed and because HIV continues to evolve resistance to treatments, estimates of survival time are likely to continue to change. Without antiretroviral therapy, death normally occurs within a year. Most patients die from opportunistic infections or malignancies associated with the progressive failure of the immune system.

The rate of clinical disease progression varies widely between individuals and has been shown to be affected by many factors such as host susceptibility and immune function health care and co-infections as well as factors relating to the viral strain. The specific opportunistic infections that AIDS patients develop depend in part on the prevalence of these infections in the geographic area in which the patient lives.

Major pulmonary illnesses

  • Pneumocystis jiroveci pneumonia (originally known as Pneumocystis carinii pneumonia, often-abbreviated PCP) is relatively rare in healthy, immunocompetent people, but common among HIV-infected individuals. Before the advent of effective diagnosis, treatment and routine prophylaxis in Western countries, it was a common immediate cause of death. In developing countries, it is still one of the first indications of AIDS in untested individuals, although it does not generally occur unless the CD4 count is less than 200 per µL.
  • Tuberculosis (TB) is unique among infections associated with HIV because it is transmissible to immunocompetent people via the respiratory route, is easily treatable once identified, may occur in early-stage HIV disease, and is preventable with drug therapy. However, multidrug resistance is a potentially serious problem. Even though its incidence has declined because of the use of directly observed therapy and other improved practices in Western countries, this is not the case in developing countries where HIV is most prevalent. In early-stage HIV infection (CD4 count >300 cells per µL), TB typically presents as a pulmonary disease. In advanced HIV infection, TB often presents atypically with extrapulmonary (systemic) disease a common feature. Symptoms are usually constitutional and are not localized to one particular site, often affecting bone marrow, bone, urinary and gastrointestinal tracts, liver, regional lymph nodes, and the central nervous system. Alternatively, symptoms may relate more to the site of extrapulmonary involvement.

Major gastro-intestinal illnesses

  • Esophagitis is an inflammation of the lining of the lower end of the esophagus (gullet or swallowing tube leading to the stomach). In HIV infected individuals, this is normally due to fungal (candidiasis) or viral (Herpes simplex virus (herpes simplex-1) or cytomegalovirus) infections. In rare cases, it could be due to mycobacteria.
  • Unexplained chronic diarrhea in HIV infection is due to many possible causes, including common bacterial (Salmonella, Shigella, Listeria, Campylobacter, or Escherichia coli) and parasitic infections; and uncommon opportunistic infections such as cryptosporidiosis, microsporidiosis, Mycobacterium avium complex (MAC) and cytomegalovirus (CMV) colitis. In some cases, diarrhea may be a side effect of several drugs used to treat HIV, or it may simply accompany HIV infection, particularly during primary HIV infection. It may also be a side effect of antibiotics used to treat bacterial causes of diarrhea (common for Clostridium difficile). In the later stages of HIV infection, diarrhea is thought to be a reflection of changes in the way the intestinal tract absorbs nutrients, and may be an important component of HIV-related wasting.

Major neurological illnesses

  • Toxoplasmosis is a disease caused by the single-celled parasite called Toxoplasma gondii; it usually infects the brain causing toxoplasma encephalitis but it can infect and cause disease in the eyes and lungs.
  • Progressive multifocal leukoencephalopathy (PML) is a demyelinating disease, in which the gradual destruction of the myelin sheath covering the axons of nerve cells impairs the transmission of nerve impulses. It is caused by a virus called JC virus which occurs in 70% of the population in latent form, causing disease only when the immune system has been severely weakened, as is the case for AIDS patients. It progresses rapidly, usually causing death within months of diagnosis.
  • AIDS dementia complex (ADC) is a metabolic encephalopathy induced by HIV infection and fueled by immune activation of HIV infected brain macrophages and microglia which secrete neurotoxins of both host and viral origin. Specific neurological impairments are manifested by cognitive, behavioral, and motor abnormalities that occur after years of HIV infection and is associated with low CD4+ T cell levels and high plasma viral loads. Prevalence is 10–20% in Western countries but only 1–2% of HIV infections in India. This difference is possibly due to the HIV subtype in India.
  • Cryptococcal meningitis is an infection of the meninx (meninges) (the membrane covering the brain and spinal cord) by the fungus Cryptococcus neoformans. It can cause fevers, headache, fatigue, nausea, and vomiting. Patients may also develop seizures and confusion; left untreated, it can be lethal.

Major HIV-associated malignancies

Patients with HIV infection have substantially increased incidence of several malignant cancers. This is primarily due to co-infection with an ocogenic DNA virus, especially Epstein-Barr virus (EBV), Kaposi's sarcoma-associated herpes virus (KSHV), and human papillomavirus (HPV). The following confer a diagnosis of AIDS when they occur in an HIV-infected person.

  • Kaposi's sarcoma (KS) is the most common tumor in HIV-infected patients. The appearance of this tumor in young homosexual men in 1981 was one of the first signals of the AIDS epidemic. Caused by a gammaherpes virus called Kaposi's sarcoma-associated herpes virus (KSHV), it often appears as purplish nodules on the skin, but can affect other organs, especially the mouth, gastrointestinal tract, and lungs.
  • High-grade B cell lymphomas such as Burkitt's lymphoma, Burkitt's-like lymphoma, diffuse large B-cell lymphoma (DLBCL), and primary central nervous system lymphoma present more often in HIV-infected patients. These particular cancers often foreshadow a poor prognosis. In some cases these lymphomas are AIDS-defining. Epstein-Barr virus (EBV) or KSHV cause many of these lymphomas.
  • Cervical cancer in HIV-infected women is considered AIDS-defining. It is caused by human papillomavirus (HPV).

In addition to the AIDS-defining tumors listed above, HIV-infected patients are at increased risk of certain other tumors, such as Hodgkin's disease and anal and rectal carcinomas. However, the incidence of many common tumors, such as breast cancer or colon cancer, does not increase in HIV-infected patients. In areas where HAART is extensively used to treat AIDS, the incidence of many AIDS-related malignancies has decreased, but at the same time malignant cancers overall have become the most common cause of death of HIV-infected patients

Other opportunistic infections

AIDS patients often develop opportunistic infections that present with non-specific symptoms, especially low-grade fevers and weight loss. These include infection with Mycobacterium avium-intracellulare and cytomegalovirus (CMV). CMV can cause colitis, as described above, and CMV retinitis can cause blindness. Penicilliosis due to Penicillium marneffei is now the third most common opportunistic infection (after extrapulmonary tuberculosis and cryptococcosis) in HIV-positive individuals within the endemic area of Southeast Asia.


Human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) is a retrovirus that causes acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS), a condition in humans in which the immune system begins to fail, leading to life-threatening opportunistic infections. Previous names for the virus include human T-lymphotropic virus-III (HTLV-III), lymphadenopathy-associated virus (LAV), and AIDS-associated retrovirus (ARV).

Infection with HIV occurs by the transfer of blood, semen, vaginal fluid, pre-ejaculate, or breast milk. Within these bodily fluids, HIV is present as both free virus particles and virus within infected immune cells. The three major routes of transmission are unprotected sexual intercourse, contaminated needles, and transmission from an infected mother to her baby at birth, or through breast milk. Screening of blood products for HIV in the developed world has largely eliminated transmission through blood transfusions or infected blood products in these countries.

HIV infection in humans is now pandemic. As of January 2006, the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) and the World Health Organization (WHO) estimate that AIDS has killed more than 25 million people since it was first recognized in December of 1981, making it one of the most destructive pandemics in recorded history. In 2005 alone, AIDS claimed an estimated 2.4–3.3 million lives, of which more than 570,000 were children. It is estimated that about 0.6% of the world's living population is infected with HIV. A third of these deaths are occurring in sub-Saharan Africa, retarding economic growth and increasing poverty. According to current estimates, HIV is set to infect 90 million people in Africa, resulting in a minimum estimate of 18 million orphans. Antiretroviral treatment reduces both the mortality and the morbidity of HIV infection, but routine access to antiretroviral medication is not available in all countries. HIV primarily infects vital cells in the human immune system such as helper T cells (specifically CD4+ T cells), macrophages and dendritic cells. HIV infection leads to low levels of CD4+ T cells through three main mechanisms: firstly, direct viral killing of infected cells; secondly, increased rates of apoptosis in infected cells; and thirdly, killing of infected CD4+ T cells by CD8 cytotoxic lymphocytes that recognize infected cells. When CD4+ T cell numbers decline below a critical level, cell-mediated immunity is lost, and the body becomes progressively more susceptible to opportunistic infections. If untreated, eventually most HIV-infected individuals develop AIDS (Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome) and die; however about one in ten remain healthy for many years, with no noticeable symptoms. Treatment with anti-retrovirals, where available, increases the life expectancy of people infected with HIV. It is hoped that current and future treatments may allow HIV-infected individuals to achieve a life expectancy approaching that of the general public (see Treatment).

Origin and discovery

The AIDS epidemic was discovered June 5, 1981, when the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported a cluster of Pneumocystis carinii pneumonia (now classified as Pneumocystis jiroveci pneumonia) in five homosexual men in Los Angeles. The disease was originally dubbed GRID, or Gay-Related Immune Deficiency, but health authorities soon realized that nearly half of the people identified with the syndrome were not homosexual men. In 1982, the CDC introduced the term AIDS to describe the newly recognized syndrome, though it was still casually referred to as GRID.

In 1983, scientists led by Luc Montagnier at the Pasteur Institute in France first discovered the virus that causes AIDS. They called it lymphadenopathy-associated virus (LAV). A year later a team led by Robert Gallo of the United States confirmed the discovery of the virus, but they renamed it human T lymphotropic virus type III (HTLV-III). The dual discovery led to considerable scientific disagreement, and it was not until Presidents François Mitterrand of France and Ronald Reagan of the USA met that the major issues were resolved. In 1986, both the French and the U.S. names for the virus itself were dropped in favour of the new term, human immunodeficiency virus (HIV).

HIV was classified as a member of the genus Lentivirus]], part of the family of Retroviridae. Lentiviruses have many common morphologies and biological properties. Many species are infected by lentiviruses, which are characteristically responsible for long-duration illnesses with a long incubation period. Lentiviruses are transmitted as single-stranded, positive-sense, enveloped RNA viruses. Upon entry of the target cell, the viral RNA genome is converted to double-stranded DNA by a virally encoded reverse transcriptase that is present in the virus particle. This viral DNA is then integrated into the cellular DNA by a virally encoded integrase so that the genome can be transcribed. Once the virus has infected the cell, two pathways are possible: either the virus becomes latent and the infected cell continues to function, or the virus becomes active and replicates, and a large number of virus particles are liberated that can then infect other cells.

Two species of HIV infect humans: HIV-1 and HIV-2. HIV-1 is thought to have originated in southern Cameroon after jumping from wild chimpanzees (Pan troglodytes troglodytes) to humans during the twentieth century.

HIV-2 may have originated from the Sooty Mangabey (Cercocebus atys), an Old World monkey of Guinea-Bissau, Gabon, and Cameroon. HIV-1 is more virulent. It is easily transmitted and is the cause of the majority of HIV infections globally. HIV-2 is less transmittable and is largely confined to West Africa. HIV-1 is the virus that was initially discovered and termed LAV.

Three of the earliest known instances of HIV-1 infection are as follows:

  1. A plasma sample taken in 1959 from an adult male living in what is now the Democratic Republic of Congo. #HIV found in tissue samples from a 15-year-old African-American teenager who died in St. Louis, Missouri in 1969.
  2. HIV found in tissue samples from a Norwegian sailor who died around 1976.

Although a variety of theories exist explaining the transfer of HIV to humans, no single hypothesis is unanimously accepted, and the topic remains controversial. The most widely accepted theory is so called 'Hunter' Theory according to which transference from chimp to human most likely occurred when a human was bitten by a chimp or was cut while butchering one, and the human became infected. The London Times published an article in 1987 stating that WHO suspected some kind of connection with its vaccine program and AIDS-epidemic. The story was almost entirely based on statements given by one unnamed WHO advisor. The theory was supported only by weak circumstantial evidence and is now disproven by unraveling the genetic code of the virus and finding out that the virus dates back to the 1930s.

Freelance journalist Tom Curtis discussed one controversial possibility for the origin of HIV/AIDS in a 1992 Rolling Stone magazine article. He put forward what is now known as the OPV AIDS hypothesis, which suggests that AIDS was inadvertently caused in the late 1950s in the Belgian Congo by Hilary Koprowski's research into a polio vaccine. Although subsequently retracted due to libel issues surrounding its claims, the Rolling Stone article motivated another freelance journalist, Edward Hooper, to probe more deeply into this subject. Hooper's research resulted in his publishing a 1999 book, The River, in which he alleged that an experimental oral polio vaccine prepared using chimpanzee kidney tissue was the route through which simian immunodeficiency virus (SIV) crossed into humans to become HIV, thus starting the human AIDS pandemic. This theory is contradicted by an analysis of genetic mutation in primate lentivirus strains that indicates with 95% certainty that the origin of the HIV-1 strain dates to about 1930.

Furthermore in February 2000 one of the original developers of the polio vaccine, Philadelphia based Wistar Institute found from its stores a phial of the original vaccine used in the vaccination program. It was analyzed in April 2001 and no traces of either HIV-1 or SIV were found in the sample. A second analysis showed that only macaque monkey kidney cells, which cannot be infected with SIV or HIV, were used to produce the vaccine While the analysis was done on only one phial of vaccine, most scientists have concluded that the polio vaccine theory of the origins of HIV is not possible.


For more details on this topic, see AIDS transmission and prevention
Estimated per act risk for acquisition of HIV-1
by exposure route
Exposure Route Estimated infections per 10,000 exposures to an infected source
Blood Transfusion 9,000
Childbirth 2,500
Needle-sharing injection drug use 67
Receptive anal intercourse* 50
Percutaneous needle stick 30
Receptive penile-vaginal intercourse* 10
Insertive anal intercourse* 6.5
Insertive penile-vaginal intercourse* 5
Receptive fellatio* 1
Insertive fellatio* 0.5
* assuming no condom use

Since the beginning of the pandemic, three main transmission routes for HIV have been identified:

  • Sexual route. The majority of HIV infections are acquired through unprotected sexual relations. Sexual transmission can occur when infected sexual secretions of one partner come into contact with the genital, oral, or rectal mucous membranes of another.
  • Blood or blood product route. This transmission route can account for infections in intravenous drug users, hemophiliacs and recipients of blood transfusions (though most transfusions are checked for HIV in the developed world) and blood products. It is also of concern for persons receiving medical care in regions where there is prevalent substandard hygiene in the use of injection equipment, such as the reuse of needles in Third World countries. HIV can also be spread through the sharing of leeches. Health care workers such as nurses, laboratory workers, and doctors, have also been infected, although this occurs more rarely. People who give and receive tattoos, piercings, and scarification procedures can also be at risk of infection.
  • Mother-to-child transmission (MTCT). The transmission of the virus from the mother to the child can occur in utero during the last weeks of pregnancy and at childbirth. In the absence of treatment, the transmission rate between the mother and child is 25% However, where drug treatment and Cesarian section are available, this can be reduced to 1%. Breast feeding also presents a risk of infection for the baby.

HIV-2 is transmitted much less frequently by the MTCT and sexual route than HIV-1.

HIV has been found at low concentrations in the saliva, tears and urine of infected individuals, but there are no recorded cases of infection by these secretions and the potential risk of transmission is negligible. The use of physical barriers such as the latex condom is widely advocated to reduce the sexual transmission of HIV. Spermicide, when used alone or with vaginal contraceptives like a diaphragm (contraceptive), actually increases the male to female transmission rate due to inflammation of the vagina; it should not be considered a barrier to infection. Research is clarifying the relationship between male circumcision and HIV in differing social and cultural contexts, however critics point out that any correlation between circumcision and HIV is likely to come from cultural factors (which govern not only whether someone is circumcised, but also their sexual practices and beliefs).

Also see the page [ HIV test ]


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