Hiv And Aids: The Simple Facts

A short summary on HIV and AIDS with some updated facts on what AIDS is, how it is spread, how you can protect yourself and how AIDs is treated including the work being done toward a cure.

AIDS (Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome) is an infectious disease caused by HIV (Human Immunodeficiency virus). This is an appropriate name because in humans this virus causes a deficiency in the immune system. HIV attacks the immune system specifically the Lymphocytes or white blood cells. Lymphocytes play a very important part in the body's defense against antigens these include bacteria, viruses and other harmful substances. HIV specifically attacks one type of Lymphocyte called T4 cells or helper T cells these cells, as their name suggests, help in many aspects of immunity. HIV attacks these cells and gains entry; once inside it releases it's RNA (the viruses genetic material) binding it to the cells own DNA. It is then capable of taking over the cell, reproducing copies of itself and destroying the cell. Once destroyed the cell releases all the new copies of the virus and infect other T4 cells. As the number of T4 cells deplete the immune system is essentially paralyzed. This seriously compromises the infected individuals immune system. Below, are some of the most recent facts about AIDS.

How AIDS is spread?

HIV transmission can occur when blood, semen (including pre-seminal fluid), vaginal fluid, or breast milk from an infected individual enters the body of an uninfected individual. Some of the common routes of entry into the body include: through a vein, the anus, vagina, penis, mouth or other mucous membranes (ex. eyes, nose); or cuts and sores. It should be noted that healthy skin is an excellent barrier against HIV. From the list of fluids by which HIV can be transmitted and its routes of entry the CDC (Centre for Disease Control) indicates the following activities can lead to infection:

· By having sexual intercourse with an HIV infected person.

· By sharing needles or injection equipment with an injection drug user who is infected with HIV.

· From mothers who are HIV positive to their babies, before birth, during birth and by breastfeeding the baby after birth.

· From getting a tattoo or body piercing at an establishment that does not sterilize and disinfect instruments between clients.

· Through transfusions of infected blood

· By working in the health care field working directly with HIV positive patients or their blood.



It should be noted that the last two activities carry the least likely risk, and the chance of acquiring HIV through these activities is very low.

How can you protect yourself?

The key to protecting yourself is in knowing the high-risk activities and avoiding them. If avoidance is not possible there are ways to protect yourself, while engaging in these activities. The CDC makes the following recommendations: Latex condoms are highly effective in preventing HIV transmission when used consistently and correctly. For those individuals who cannot or will not stop injecting drugs they can reduce the risk of acquiring HIV by using the following precautions. They should never reuse or share syringes, water or drug preparation equipment. Instead, use only new, sterile syringes to inject drugs. Ensure they clean the injection site with a new alcohol swab and safely dispose of syringes after one use. Mothers who are HIV positive can protect their babies by seeking medical treatment as soon as they find out they are pregnant. Individuals who choose to get a tattoo and/or a body piercing should ensure that all instruments that penetrate the skin are thoroughly cleaned and sterilized or only used once and then thrown out. Ask the staff what precautions are taken to prevent HIV and other diseases. These days, in this country, transfusions carry an extremely low risk of transmitting HIV due to the rigorous testing of blood before it is given to others. Health care workers who are working in an area where HIV transmission is possible can protect themselves by carefully following Universal Precautions. These are a set of guidelines that involve using protective practices and equipment to prevent blood-borne infections.

How can AIDS be treated or cured?

Today's treatments for AIDS have improved due to a greater understanding of how the virus attacks the immune system and causes disease. According to the National Institute of Health, treatment focuses on delaying or preventing HIV disease by suppressing HIV replication. One of the types of drugs used today are Transcriptase (RT) Inhibitores. There are five drugs available: AZT, Zalcitabine, Didanosine, Stavudine, and Iamivudine. Because of HIV's ability to develop drug resistance combinations of these drugs are used. Another treatment involves Protease Inhibitors. These are prescribed with two of the (RT) Inhibitors and have been found to work very well.

Although a cure for AIDS is not yet available a lot of research is going on to find one. One possibility is a vaccine. There are many problems with this approach due to the multiple strains of HIV. There is a vaccine currently being researched that could elicit immune responses to a variety of HIV strains; as demonstrated by KENT WEINHOLD of Duke University Medical Center.

Another more drastic approach currently being investigated involves a mutated CCR5, a gene, which some people carry which gives them immunity to HIV. As stated in "In Search of AIDS-Resistance Genes" an article by STEPHEN J. O'BRIEN and MICHAEL DEAN in Scientific American. Researchers propose an AIDS patient could be given a very high dose of chemotherapy or radiation, aiming to destroy all HIV infected blood cells and then to rescue the patient with a bone marrow transplant from donors who are homozygous (have both copies) for the mutant CCR5 gene. This last step would help protect the patient from new HIV infections and help prevent the cell-to-cell spread of any HIV particles that somehow survived. This therapy is considered drastic because bone marrow transplants are inherently risky due to possible rejection or attack from the donor marrow on the patient's tissues.

References:

CDC

http://www.cdc.gov

Health Canada

http://www.hc-sc.gc.ca

Scientific American

http://www.sciam.com

http://www.sciam.com/0997issue/0997obrien.html

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