In this new millenium many people still do not understand HIV/AIDS. This is a simple yet informative crash course for the lay person.

HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, silently infects thousands each year. The symptoms of infection are virtually nonexistent for years. The stealth of the disease progression means that many infected people are unaware of their status. Public service announcements, school health classes, family doctors and many other concerned parties try to educate the public. In spite of the plethora of available information, many remain in denial or in the dark about HIV and AIDS. Some assume that it would never get them and that they can tell who has it. Moreover, many that heed the danger of the virus and disease do not have an understanding of what it really is and how it works. The HIV virus is a very complicated structure. Moreover, the progression of AIDS can get very complicated in terms of the science behind its progression. However, knowledge is power and it is good for all to have a general understanding of HIV and AIDS. An explanation tangible for the general public is possible.

HIV is the virus that causes AIDS. HIV stands for human immunodeficiency virus. Immunodeficiency means that the body's system of defense against disease is weak and not functioning properly. AIDS is the actual disease caused by HIV. AIDS stands for acquired immune deficiency syndrome. A syndrome is a disorder or group of symptoms as a result of an illness. Thus AIDS is the group of symptoms and illnesses resulting from infection of the HIV virus. HIV is a virus just like the common cold. However, HIV attacks the body's defenses or immune system.

The immune system is a family or team of cells that interact to protect the body from germs, parasites, and any other foreign invader to the body. HIV enters into the bloodstream and seeks out the cells of the immune system. When it infects the cells, it doesn't kill them or harm them immediately. It simply walks up to a cell, injects itself into the cell, and hides dormant for a long time. This cell is now considered HIV's host. The infected cell can go on about its normal functioning as if the foreign virus is not there. What is important to understand is that although the HIV virus has not killed the cell it is still using the cell. When it injects itself, it interferes with some of the cells internal machinery. The virus makes the cell produce materials necessary to make more HIV.

This period of dormancy can last for years. However, at some point the virus will become active. When it does, all the raw materials it tricked the host into producing are formed into more HIV virus. At this point the infected cell is filled with many copies of HIV. The host is lysed, and the hundreds of HIV copies spread out into the bloodstream and begin to infect other immune cells. As this process progresses the immune system is overwhelmed and the defenses are effectively killed off. With the immune system compromised, all the illnesses normally staved off by the body's defenses are now able to do damage. AIDS, the syndrome associated with HIV describes all the infections and illnesses that are not held at bay once the immune system is compromised. There are many different diseases to which the immune compromised body becomes vulnerable. These include cancers, digestive disorders, and even mental dysfunction.

HIV is spread through several means. The most potent vehicle is blood transfusion. That is direct blood to blood contact. However blood handling protocols by hospitals, blood banks, and the Red Cross have virtually eliminated that possibility. The common mode of transmission is bodily fluid exchange during sexual activity. Homosexuals and heterosexuals are at risk when there is unprotected sexual activity. The virus is highly concentrated in the sperm of males and the vaginal secretions of women. Sexual acts outside of vaginal-penile intercourse also open the door of risk when performed unprotected. The genitalia have thin mucous membranes. The thin surfaces inside the penile shaft and vagina wall allow easy entrance of the virus into the bloodstream. Sometimes sexual activity even results in microscopic tears that are open hallways for virus entry. While wearing condoms and using dental dams are good precautions; the safest sex is none at all. Abstinence is the only 100 percent foolproof way not to contract the virus. And this means abstinence from oral sex also.

HIV and AIDS are intimidating and evil to many: fear of the disease is warranted since there is no cure. Nevertheless, understanding the disease and how to not contract it is the best line of defense. Even if one does have the misfortune of becoming infected, knowledge of the disease will aid in encouraging responsible behavoir. Furthermore, knowledge allows an infected person to not be a victim but an active and empowered participant in their treatment. It is important that informed individuals teach others about the disease. Education is the only way to change behavior and behavior modification will change the face of the disease.

© High Speed Ventures 2011