HIV/AIDS 101: The Three and Four Letter Acronyms
We have been living with bacteria and viruses since before homo became erectus. In fact, some bacteria are healthy and necessary for us to survive, like the ones that live in our stomachs and lower intestines that are helpful to our daily living.
Then we have the bad bugs. We have endured polio, Legionnaire's disease, West Nile virus, smallpox and the yearly flu, to name a few. However, in the early 1980s a new disease was killing people by the hundreds and then thousands, and after some years, science came up with the terms HIV -- Human Immunodeficiency Virus -- the name of the virus, and AIDS -- Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome, the name of the condition that eventually ensues when HIV is left untreated.
What Does AIDS Mean?
Acquired, which means you catch it, Immune Deficiency, which means your immune system is weakened and can no longer fight off bacteria and diseases, and Syndrome, a combination of symptoms that indicates a particular disorder. If left untreated, AIDS may lead to death. Nobody dies from AIDS itself, but from the illnesses that can develop due to AIDS.
What if I Test Positive for HIV?
If you have a positive result for HIV, take a deep breath and be glad that it is 2004, because there have been many advances in treatment and it is no longer a death sentence. It used to be. In the early 1980s when patients tested positive all they were given was an amount of time to prepare for death. And unfortunately, even today some people find out that they are HIV-positive only when they end up in the emergency room of a hospital, and have come down with one or more of the opportunistic infections brought on by a weakened immune system and are less likely to respond to treatment. Many people these days test positive and do not need to go on medications because science is now more sophisticated, and we know that a person with over 500 T-cells and a very low viral load (such as under 500 copies) does not need to start therapy. U.S. HIV treatment guidelines suggest that a person consider starting HAART (highly active antiretroviral therapy) when their T-cell count is below 350, or their viral load is above 30,000 by the bDNA test or 55,000 by the PCR test. If someone knows they are HIV-positive, their health and quality of life can be manageable if they empower themselves to learn about the virus, how it works and how it impacts their body.
How Does HIV Work?
There are five basic steps to the life cycle of HIV. These are the steps scientists use to develop drugs -- fighting HIV every step of the way, as it were.
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