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What is HIV?
      #49318 - 12/16/02 03:07 AM

What is HIV?

“HIV” stands for: Human Immunodeficiency Virus. HIV is a retrovirus that has been scientifically classified as the primary cause of the Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (also known as AIDS). HIV destroys the essential conductor of the immune system – CD4+ cells. By destroying CD4+ cells, HIV seriously disables the immune system’s ability to fight infection.

HIV was discovered in 1983. There are two major types of HIV. HIV-1 is the cause of the worldwide epidemic. At least 10 different subtypes of HIV-1 have also been found. A second human immunodeficiency virus, HIV-2, is less pathogenic than HIV-1 and is largely prevalent in Western Africa.

How is HIV transmitted?

HIV is relatively difficult to contract, but is an infection which should be taken very seriously. Transmission is exclusively through direct contact with body fluids. There are three major routes of transmission:

· Sex (vaginal, anal, and oral)

· Direct injection (needles and syringes)

· From mother to infant (either through blood or breast milk)

HIV is easier to get through the intravenous routes than through sexual ones; however, most infections are attributed to sexual contact.

The risk of becoming HIV-infected is increased by three main factors:

· Number of sexual partners

· Likelihood of HIV infection in these partners

· Probability of virus transmission

The third factor is increased when a sexually transmitted disease is involved; the risk decreases with proper use of a condom. Types of sexual activities (eg, anal sex) also affect the third factor.

What is AIDS?

“AIDS” stands for: Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome. AIDS was first recognized as a new and distinct clinical entity in 1981. The Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) has been scientifically classified as the primary cause of AIDS. According to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), an HIV-positive individual has developed AIDS when his/her CD4+ count falls below 200 or when diagnosed with one of 26 infections referred to as opportunistic because they are caused by organisms that do not normally cause disease in people with intact immune systems.

How does HIV progress to AIDS?

There are four main stages leading to AIDS:

· Primary Infection (also known as Window Period)

· Clinical Latency (also known as Seroconversion/Acute)

· HIV Asymptomatic

· HIV Symptomatic

Primary Infection – This is the stage when HIV infection has taken place, but the body has not created antibodies. The window period can last anywhere from six weeks to one or more years, although antibodies will usually show up within three to six months. HIV tests look for antibodies, so if a person is tested while in this window period, the test could come back falsely negative.

Clinical Latency – Seroconversion occurs when the body first begins to produce antibodies to HIV. Generally speaking, seroconversion takes place three to eight weeks after the initial infection. When most people seroconvert, they experience flu-like symptoms such as persistent headaches, fever, sore throat, and swollen lymph nodes; these symptoms will usually go away within two to four weeks. During this period, the amount of virus in the body is very high and is mostly found in the lymphoid tissues.

HIV Asymptomatic – After the initial flu-like symptoms go away, the body enters the HIV asymptomatic stage. Infected people may go anywhere from six months to 10 or more years without experiencing any symptoms, however the median time is 10 years. Some people, referred to as long-term survivors, have stayed in this stage for more than 15 years. HIV is destroying CD4+ cells at this time, but the body is healthy enough to continue replacing these immune system cells.

HIV Symptomatic – The HIV symptomatic stage is marked by the severe depletion of CD4+ cells as well as a significant number of symptoms including fever, weight loss, pain, fatigue, loss of appetite, night sweats, headaches, and especially, swollen lymph nodes. This is the final stage before the progression to AIDS.

AIDS is the final stage of HIV infection. The US Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) defines the progression from HIV to AIDS as occurring when a person is 1) infected with HIV and has a CD4+ cell count of less than 200, or 2) infected with HIV and develops one of 26 opportunistic infections.

How do I know if I have HIV?

There are two primary tests used to detect antibodies to HIV – the ELISA and the Western Blot Assay. The ELISA, or enzyme linked immunosorbent assay, is used in most testing centers as an initial screening test (largely because it is inexpensive, has standardized procedures, and provides quick results). The problem with ELISA is that it is not 100% accurate. ELISA is very sensitive, thus the test recognizes even small amounts of HIV antibodies. The sensitivity is set extremely high because it is better to have some “false positives,” than to miss the possibility of HIV infection. When you get tested, ELISA is performed as an initial test. If test results are positive, you will be re-tested with ELISA. If the second test also returns a positive diagnosis, the blood sample is tested using a Western Blot Assay. The Western Blot, unlike the ELISA, is very specific. It is both an expensive and time-consuming, labor-intensive test, thus it is only used for determining a "true-positive."

Where do I get tested for HIV?

Ask your doctor or healthcare provider to administer an HIV test, or seek out a local clinic or center that offers voluntary and confidential HIV testing and, as important, counseling. If you are in the United States of America visit to locate an HIV testing site near you. Otherwise, contact your National or local Ministry of Health through their Web site or telephone services to determine where to find local HIV screening and counseling services.

What do I do if I test HIV-positive?

Do not panic. Most health practices, clinics, and centers have on staff highly trained counselors able to counsel individuals who seek HIV testing, regardless of diagnosis. Take advantage of counselors – they are trained professionals meant to help you through this stressful time. Should you test HIV-positive, you should see your doctor or healthcare provider to explore treatment options. It is important that you do not engage in unprotected sexual activities or share intravenous needles if you test positive for HIV since you may pass on the infection to others and may also risk re-infection with additional strains of HIV yourself.

What HIV treatments are available?

The treatment of HIV care has come a long way in the last few years. Today, there are many more anti-HIV drugs to choose from, and medical knowledge has improved since the identification of HIV/AIDS in the early 1980s. Many people today now live full, productive lives if properly treated with HIV therapies. Your doctor or healthcare provider will advise you of your options and, as important, will involve you in decision-making around treatment and maintaining your health.

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Re: A virus that has not been isolated: NOT TRUE new
      #49394 - 12/16/02 05:04 PM

Dr. Joel Gallant said the virus has NOW been isolated.

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