According to the Joint United Nations Program on HIV/AIDS, the estimated number of people worldwide who have AIDS had breached the 33.2 million mark (Glassman et al., 2007). There is no wonder why this disease is now considered one of the leading causes of death worldwide. Since the discovery of AIDS nearly a generation ago much has been learned about the virus and its devastating consequences. The U.S has been successful in producing and allocating medications that slow the progress of AIDS and HIV however; across the world and especially in Africa people are not so fortunate. AIDS has been recognized as a global pandemic, a virus that crosses political, cultural, and economic boundaries to become a global concern. There is no cure for AIDS but there are ways to slow down the effect of the virus on the human body.
HIV and AIDS
HIV is an acronym for Human Immunodeficiency Virus. It is a type of virus that attacks the immune system of the human body. The effect of the virus takes many stages and when it reaches the final stage the symptoms are severe and there are complications. At this point, the person is not only a carrier of HIV but also diagnosed with AIDS or Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome. HIV/AIDS weakens the human immune system to the extent that it becomes unable to fend off everyday pathogens. As the virus multiplies the person’s immune system becomes compromised. When the immune system is already weakened then it is prone to infections.
A person is infected with HIV when there is a transfer of body fluids from an infected source. These fluids include the blood, semen, vaginal fluids, and breastmilk. Transmission occurs when a critical amount of bodily fluids enter a person’s bloodstream. When HIV was initially discovered, people are known to be infected through blood transfusions or by reusing needles, a common occurrence when it comes to drug addicts. However, in the 21st century, it is unprotected sexual intercourse that is the most common mode of transmission (Setel, 1999). Modes of transmission are generally constant across geographical borders. However, the onset of symptoms differs from person to person and depends on the strength of the immune system coupled with other factors such as proper nutrition and the existence of other infections (Clumeck, 2004).
A person infected with the HIV virus will not suddenly appear sickly. This makes the virus an effective killer because the carrier has no idea. Furthermore, a typical sexually transmitted disease has an infection period that lasts for a few months. But for HIV to become AIDS the period lasts for eight to twelve years. In other words, an infected person can have multiple partners and infect many, in twelve years thinking that he is healthy and no need to worry about precautions or take medication that can help combat the spread of the HIV but unknowingly gets to infect several people if this particular person happens to be promiscuous.
There are diseases that are highly suggestive of HIV infection such as bacterial pneumonia, tuberculosis, oral candidiasis, severe herpes zoster infection, severe dermatitis, and generalized lymphadenopathy; cervical cancer (invasive); coccidioidomycosis/ cryptococcosis; cytomegalovirus disease; encephalopathy (HIV-related); histoplasmosis; kaposis sarcoma; lymphoma (certain types); mycobacterium avium complex; pneumocystis carinii; salmonella septicemia (recurrent); toxoplasmosis of the brain; wasting syndrome (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Fact Sheet, 2008). However, the presence of these symptoms does not automatically mean that the patient is a carrier of HIV. Even persistent fever, unintentional weight loss can be misleading and will not automatically indicate that the patient is HIV positive.
Aside from the difficulty in correctly diagnosing HIV/AIDS, there is no known cure for this disease. But certain drugs can be used to control the virus (Mayo Clinice, 2010). These drugs are classified into different classes such as:
- Non-nucleoside reverse transcriptase inhibitors – this type of drug will disable a protein needed by the HIV to make copies of itself;
- Protease inhibitors – this type of drug disable protease, a protein that an HIV needed to make copies of itself;
- Entry or fusion inhibitors – this type of drug prevents the entry of the virus into CD4 cells; and
- Integrase inhibitors – this type of drug disables integrase a protein needed by the virus to insert its genetic material into CD4 cells (Mayo Clinic, 2010).
In the event that HIV has progressed to AIDS there is a need to treat opportunistic infections. There is a need to quickly diagnose the disease and administer drugs that will slow down the impact of the virus. It is not going to be an easy task because aside from the biological aspect of the disease there is also the social aspect that HIV carriers and their loved ones will have to learn to deal with.
HIV is a deadly virus because it has no known cure. The moment it progresses to AIDS the human immune system is compromised to a degree that the person can no longer recover. It is important to understand that it requires the transfer of body fluids for the virus to spread. Even if there is no known cure there is hope for those who are HIV positive because recent breakthroughs in medical science provides the capability to slow down the impact of the virus. This means that to a certain degree the disease can be managed until a cure can be discovered.
Clumeck, N. &. HIV and AIDS: epidemiology of HIV infection 2nd edition. In J. &. Cohen, Infectious Diseases. New York: Mosby, 2004.
Glassman, J. et al., South Africa Program Update. University of Missouri South African Education Program. 2007. Web.
Mayo Clinic. HIV/AIDS: Treatments and Drugs. Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research. 2010. Web.
Setel, P. Comparative histories of sexually transmitted diseases and HIV/AIDS in Africa: an introduction. In P. L. Setel, Comparative histories of sexually transmitted diseases and HIV/AIDS in Africa (pp. 1-16). Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1999.