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What exactly is AIDS? In detail.

May 28, 1997

What exactly is AIDS? In detail.

Well, my heading pretty much asks my whole question. I am doing a report/presentation in one of my classes at school and I would like a detailed answer on what AIDS is. Thanks.

Response from Mr. Sowadsky

Hi. Thank you for your question. AIDS is a disease caused by a virus called HIV (Human Immunodeficiency Virus). AIDS stands for Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome. In this disease, the HIV virus damages the immune system, so the body is no longer able to fight off diseases, that normally it would be able to fight off. HIV infects and destroys a specific cell of your immune system called a CD4 cell (also called a T4 cell or a T helper cell). The CD4 cells are the "generals" of the "immune system army". The CD4 cells tells other cells of the immune system what to do when an invading organism, germ, or cancer cell is found in the body. Basically what HIV does, is kill off the CD4 cells (that is, it kills off the generals of the army). When the generals of the "immune system army" are killed off, the rest of the immune system won't know what to do to fight off invaders. This is how HIV damages the immune system.

When HIV first enters the body, your immune system immediately attacks the virus, and keeps it under control for a number of years. During this time, the virus is at constant battle with your immune system. Your body tries to get rid of the virus, but can only keep it under control. After a number of years, your immune system starts to lose it's battle against HIV. After an average of 10 years of fighting HIV, your immune system starts to weaken, and this is when full-blown AIDS begins. During this 10 year period, a person may have no symptoms at all, and feel fine and look fine. During this time, the person is considered HIV positive, but does not yet have full-blown AIDS.

The definition of full-blown AIDS is a very specific one. In order to be diagnosed with AIDS, a person must meet the following requirements:

First, a person must be diagnosed with either HIV-1 or HIV-2.

Second, in addition to having HIV, a person must have at least one of the following:

1. A CD4 cell count less than 200.

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