What is AIDS

AIDS or the Acquired Immuno Deficiency Syndrome implies the deficiency of the immune system, acquired during the lifetime of an individual. This indicates that this is not a congenital disease. The word ‘Syndrome' implies a group of symptoms. AIDS was first reported in the USA in 1981 by Mr.Luc Montaigner. 5 years later, in 1986, it was reported in India. And in the last 25 years or so, it has spread all over the world killing more than 25 million people.
How is AIDS Caused?
AIDS is caused by the Human Immuno Deficiency Virus, popularly known as the HIV Virus. It is a member of a group of viruses called a retrovirus. These HIV viruses have an envelope enclosing the RNA genome.

How HIV is spread?

 Transmission of HIV infection most commonly occurs by -
  • Sexual contact with infected person
  • By transfusion of contaminated blood and contaminated blood products 
  • By sharing needles that are infected as in case of intravenous drug abusers
  • Through the placenta, from infected mother to her child 
So, the people who are at high risk of having this infection include person who have multiple sexual partners,individuals who require repeated blood transfusions,  drug addicts who take drugs intravenously, and babies born to an infected mother.

This is to make clear that HIV/AIDS is not spread by mere touch or physical contact; it spreads only through the body fluids. Hence, it is imperative, for the physical and psychological well - being, that the persons infected with HIV/AIDS are not isolated from society and family.

Symptoms of AIDS

There is always a time difference between the infection and appearance of symptoms of AIDS. This time-lapse may vary from a few months to many years (usually 5 - 10) years.

 Physiology of HIV 

After being introduced into the body of the person, the virus enters into the macrophages where the RNA genome of the virus replicates to form viral DNA with the help of the enzyme reverse transcriptase. This viral DNA gets combined into the DNA of the host cells and directs the infected cells to produce virus particles. The macrophages continue to produce viruses and in this way acts as an HIV factory.  Simultaneously, HIV enters into helper T- lymphocytes (Th) replicates and gives rise to progeny viruses. These progeny viruses are released in the blood, they attack other helper T-lymphocytes. This is repeated again and again which leads to a progressive decrease in the number of helper T – lymphocytes in the body of the infected person. At this time, the person suffers from bouts of fever, diarrhea, and weight loss. Due to a decrease in the count of helper T lymphocytes, the patient starts suffering from secondary infections that could have been otherwise overcome such as those due to bacteria especially Mycobacterium,fungi, viruses, and even parasites like Toxoplasma. The sufferer becomes so immuno - deficient that he/she is unable to protect himself/herself against these infections.

Test for AIDS

 A widely used diagnostic test for AIDS is the ELISA test or the Enzyme-Linked Immuno Sorbent Assay. Treatment of AIDS with anti-retroviral drugs is not completely effective, it is only partially curative. These can only help prolong the life of the patient but cannot prevent death, which is inevitable.

Prevention of AIDS –

Prevention is the best option, as AIDS has no cure. Moreover, HIV infection, more often, transmits due to conscious behavior patterns and is not something that happens inadvertently, like pneumonia or typhoid. Of course, infection in blood transfusion patients, newborns (from mother), etc., may take place due to poor monitoring. The only excuse maybe ignorance and it has been rightly saying – “don’t die of ignorance”. In our country the National AIDS Control Organisation  (NACO) and the other non – governmental organization (NGOs) are doing a lot to educate people about AIDS. WHO has initiated a number of programs to prevent the spreading of HIV infection. 
  • Making blood (from blood banks) safe from HIV
  • Ensuring the use of only disposable needles and syringes in public and private hospitals and clinics
  • Free distribution of condoms
  • Controlling drug abuse
  • Ensuring safe sex and promoting regular check-ups for HIV in susceptible populations are some such steps taken up.

Having AIDS or Infection with HIV  is something that should not be hidden, since then, the infection may spread to many more people. HIV/AIDS infected people need sympathy and help instead of being shunned by society. Unless society recognizes it as a problem to be dealt with in a collective manner- the chances of a wider spread of the disease increase manifold. It is a malady that can only be tackled, by the medical fraternity and society acting together, to prevent the spread of the disease.

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