Symbol of HIV and AIDS Awareness
What is AIDS ?

Human Immunodeficiency Virus is the virus that causes AIDS(Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome). Once someone becomes infected with HIV there is a period of time that may last for many years during which there are few or no symptoms. This period of time varies greatly among individuals. The virus attacks the body's immune system. When the immune system fails, a person with HIV can develop a variety of life threatening illnesses. Once a person begins to develop these illnesses HIV infection leads to the condition called AIDS. It is important to realize that not all people who are living with HIV have acquired AIDS.

No one is sure of the future of the AIDS epidemic. But it will forever be a part of our lives. Thousands of productive, creative and talented people will die before they have a chance to enjoy a full life. The epidemic will increasingly be the focus of political debates. You'll vote for people who will make the laws and policies of HIV and AIDS in your neighborhoods, workplaces and communities. What you do, what you feel and what you know will affect how well you and others live with the epidemic.

Like any virus, HIV is actually very small. Over 500,000,000 HIV viruses could fit on the period at the end of this sentence. Even though the virus is small it can bring your entire human immune system to its knees. When HIV is exposed to air, it cannot last more than an hour or so. That's why it has to travel in your bodily fluids, fluids like blood, semen, vaginal secretions and breast milk.

Once HIV gets into someone's blood stream it immediately begins looking for protein. At this point it is very hungry for something to keep it alive. The protein it prefers is called CD4. The most common cells in your body that contain this protein on their surface are T cells. There are others, but they are less common in the human body and are less likely to be in a location where the HIV has entered. One other that will be mentioned, however, will be the Glial cells. These live in the brain. The virus can easily make its way to these cells. This is the cause of the many different types of neurological disfunctions that can occur in persons with HIV or AIDS, things like forgetfulness, slowness of thinking, difficulty in concentrating or even pronounced lack of muscular coordination. Studies have shown that 80% of patients with full blown AIDS have exhibited such symptoms.

Once HIV binds itself to the CD4 protein outside of a human cell it then wants to get inside the cells where it can live even more comfortably and reproduce. To do this, it has a little disguise. It is coated with a type of human sugar.

Once HIV is inside the cell then it penetrates the nucleus and integrates with the cell's chromosomes to reproduce. At this stage it takes a little nap in the cell. It hasn't been determined how long it will sleep before it begins to reproduce and send its offspring out to find a cell of their own to infect. That is why people can actually carry HIV with them for several years without showing any symptoms. Once it does awake, the reproduction speeds up and the T cells in the body are tricked into reproducing more integrated protein of HIV. This begins budding out of the cell and eventually the host T cell cannot reproduce and dies.

As HIV reproduces and kills cells, the immune system weakens. Eventually, sometime between 2 and 10 years later, it can no longer fight off even simple infections. Once a serious opportunistic infection is diagnosed, HIV has reached its end result which is called AIDS. The T cell count in a healthy person is 800 cells/ml of blood. In a person with full blown AIDS, the average is 200 cells/ml of blood.

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