A lot of people confuse HIV and AIDS as one and the same disease or infection. The confusion is justified as understanding medical terms is not an easy task. There are many nuances on the subject matter and everything changes all the time. However, learning how HIV causes AIDS helps why the epidemic persists worldwide.
There are different theories as to how HIV AIDS appeared on earth infecting and causing deaths among people. It probably first existed between 1884 and 1984 in Africa with the appearance of HIV that causes AIDS. The HIV-1 virus was identified to have originated in the Congo in 1959, supported by genetic studies that it was passed to humans from chimpanzees 50 years before. It then moved to Haiti in 1966 and was known in the US in 1970. During this time, doctors in the West had no idea what was going on. African doctors saw a rise of “opportunistic infections” happening in the continent.
Meanwhile, the first cases of AIDS were detected in California and New York involving gay men and later on, drug needle users. In 1983, the presence of HIV AIDS was reported among non-drug users including women and children. A year later, scientists identified HIV as the virus that causes AIDS. By 1990, there were 8 million people worldwide infected with the HIV virus. According to the 2010 Global Report of UNAIDS, there are now 33.3 million people living with HIV as of 2009.
There are two types of the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV): HIV-1 and HIV-2. These viruses destroy types of white blood cells called lymphocytes. Lymphocytes act as soldiers of the body as they defend it from attacks caused by bacteria or viruses. Once the HIV is inside the body either through sexual contact, blood transfusion, sharing needles, unprotected sex, or mother to child transmissions, it attaches itself to the white blood cells.
One of the most important helpers of the body against diseases, infections, and cancers is the T lymphocyte containing CD4+ which is a receptor protein. When the virus is attached to the CD4+, it alters its RNA and turns it into a DNA. This DNA is now part of the T lymphocyte which means that it is replicated inside and eventually kills the CD4+ lymphocyte.
HIV infections cause the death of CD4+, weakening and destroying the immune system of the body. Thus, the levels of CD4+ in the body is a good indicator of the extent of the HIV infection. A healthy person should have a CD4+ lymphocyte count of 800 to 1300 mm3. If these levels fall below 200, then the body is unable to ward off infections. ‘Opportunistic infections’ occur such as pneumonia which would not have happened if a person has healthy levels of CD4+ lymphocytes.
Levels below 50 are even more dangerous as infected humans will contract other opportunistic infections leading to blindness, drastic weight loss, or death. Other infections include tuberculosis, kidney failure, Kaposi’s sarcoma (cancer of the skin), and lymphomas (cancer of the immune system). Wasting is the term used for drastic weight loss with or without an identified cause. This is when the infections develop into AIDS. The main symptoms of AIDS are these opportunistic infections and cancers that happen when the defense system is completely destroyed or progressively eroded.
HIV AIDS leaves the human body open to all sorts of infection causing complications and eventually, death. In fact, many of the HIV AIDS deaths are not caused by the virus itself but of the complications and spin-off infections that result from a weakened or non-functioning immune system.
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