How Does AIDS Affect the Body?

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What is AIDS

  • AIDS, or acquired immune deficiency syndrome, is a disorder that is caused by infection with the human immunodeficiency virus, or HIV. This virus attaches to the surface of specific white blood cells called T cells and is therefore able to reproduce and continue production of the virus. As more and more of the body's healthy T cells become infected with HIV, the body's immune system becomes compromised. AIDS and HIV have become a pandemic as more and more people are contracting the disease.

Diagnosing AIDS

  • AIDS is diagnosed after T cell counts reach a dangerously low level and blood tests confirm the presence of antibodies to HIV, indicating that the virus is present in the body. Symptoms of AIDS may not appear for 5 to 10 years after being infected with HIV. AIDS can affect every body system.

HIV and AIDS, the Onset

  • As HIV slowly invades a specific immune cell, the CD4 T-cell, HIV uses the immune cell's genetic material to reproduce itself and then kills the CD4 T-cell. The immune system gets weaker as CD4 T-cells die and the amount of HIV in the body increases.

    Many people do not develop any symptoms when they first become infected with HIV. Some people have a flu-like illness within a month or two after exposure to the virus. They may have fever, headache, malaise and enlarged lymph nodes. These symptoms usually disappear within a week to a month and are often mistaken for those of another viral infection. People are very infectious during this period, and HIV is present in large quantities in genital secretions. Some people develop frequent and severe herpes infections that cause mouth, genital or anal sores, or a painful nerve disease known as shingles. Children may have delayed development or failure to thrive.

How AIDS and HIV Affects the Body

  • When HIV uses the cell's genetic material, it damages the T-cell making it unable to do its job in our immune system. The more of these CD4, or T-cells that are damaged, the weaker your immune system becomes. Eventually, your immune system will become so weak that it will not be able to protect you from other illnesses and infections, thus you become sick. HIV does not make you sick, but it weakens your immune system, allowing other illnesses and infections to make you sick. Those with HIV and AIDS are usually susceptible to tuberculosis and other kinds of otherwise rare infections of the lung--such as Pneumocystis carinii pneumonia, infections of the surface covering of the brain, or meningitis, or the brain itself or encephalitis. The immune defect caused by having too few CD4 cells also permits some cancers that are stimulated by viral illness to occur. Some people with AIDS get forms of lymphoma and a rare tumor of blood vessels in the skin called Kaposi's sarcoma. People who have AIDS tend to keep getting sicker, especially if they are not taking antiviral medications properly.

HIV, AIDS as the Immune System Deteriorates

  • AIDS is the most advanced stages of HIV. As the immune system deteriorates, a variety of complications begins to surface. One of the first such symptoms experienced by many people infected with HIV is large lymph nodes or "swollen glands" that may be enlarged for more than three months. Other symptoms often experienced months to years before the onset of AIDS include a lack of energy, weight loss, frequent fevers and sweats, persistent or frequent yeast infections (oral or vaginal), persistent skin rashes or flaky skin, pelvic inflammatory disease that does not respond to treatment or short-term memory loss.

Renewed Hope as Treatment Improves

  • There is renewed hope that patients with the HIV virus can live for a long time with adequate and effective treatment regiments.

  • Photo Credit Web Md
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