What is HIV?


HIV is an acronym for human immunodeficiency virus. It is a sexually transmitted disease and a very real threat and danger world wide. When one contracts the virus they become what is known as “HIV positive” they will always have this virus as there is no cure for it.  It is the worst STD that can be contracted via unprotected intercourse with an infected individual. HIV’s origins have been reviewed here in HIV origins.

It is the worst STD because there is currently no cure for the virus. HIV is more prevalent among African American and homosexual men that it infects at higher rates. HIV can be contracted via men to female sexual intercourse as well but is less likely than for a man to man sexual interaction (receptive unprotected rectal entry with the use of nitrates aka “poppers” is most risky). Other risk factors include total viral load (Greater viral loads in HIV + partner lead to higher transmission rates), lack of circumcision, presence of ulcerative sexually transmitted diseases (gonorrhea for example) and host and genetic factors. Due to increased transmission of HIV due to STDs it is recommended that all HIV positive people undergo routine screening for STDs.

HIV is found in the semen of men and is the virus is acquired when it effectively reaches a blood stream. For example, a cut in the vagina that is exposed to infected semen could cause transmission of the virus. How prevalent is HIV? Note there is an HIV-1 strain and an HIV-2 strain. Most people with HIV in the United States are infected with HIV-1. Both HIV-1 and HIV-2 will eventually develop into AIDs unless treated.  For more information about HIV-2 see here.

In general vaginal to penis sexual intercourse is not as risky as anal intercourse in terms of transmission. Men that have sex with men unprotected are therefore the more likely individuals to contract the virus. HIV is also spread via contaminated blood such as during a blood transfusion and between individuals sharing needles to inject themselves with drugs (dirty needles). It is believed that an infected individual to pass his/her infection on to his/her partner in a male to female (Vagina to penis) intercourse is about 1 time out of 1000 and that’s without the use of a condom. The virus is not always able to penetrate and get to the blood stream and it is not always transmitted in a high enough concentration to give one an HIV positive status. It is important, no matter what age to practice safe sex and if you haven’t practiced safe sex it is always wise to have an HIV test.

The earlier the virus is discovered the lower its viral load and the easier it is to treat. Magic Johnson has been infected with HIV for at least two decades and is living a healthy life due to the current available medications that decrease the viral number in his body. Without medication, HIV is effective at destroying your body’s immune system as it grows in strength. HIV destroys the good cells in your body that prevent other bacteria and viruses from causing you harm on a day to day basis. As HIV continues to kill T-Cells or CD4 lymphocytes your body is unable to care for itself and opportunistic infections become deadly to the infected individual without their defense system. Once your body has lost its defense system you become what is known as having AIDS. This acronym stands for acquired immunodeficiency disease.

Your immune system is considered impaired significantly when your good cells (CD4 cells and white blood cells) fall below the number 200. A normal uninfected individual has a CD4 cell count between 600 and 1,200. AIDs has been acquired throughout the time frame HIV had to sabotage  your immune system. Once someone has AIDs their life is in great jeopardy and maybe short lived; however, people that have started antiretroviral therapy or (ART) even with cell counts below 200 have made recoveries into healthy lives.

Another way to be classified as having AIDs is if your cell count is still above 200 but you become sick with one of the opportunistic infections that can happen. To know how HIV exactly effects your CD4 count (white blood cell count) click on CD4 count. Someone may get a pneumonia known as PCP, Kaposi’s sarcoma, wasting syndrome (involuntary weight loss), memory impairment or tuberculosis. To see a comprehensive list of the conditions that diagnose one with AIDS check the link below under the section “other links.” Once a person becomes HIV positive it can take around 2 to 10 years before AIDs occurs; however, patients with an advanced HIV status defined as a CD4 cell count below 50/mm3 have a survival time of 12 to 18 months without antiretroviral therapy. This lower range of white blood cells comprises virtually all HIV-related complications. If your wondering what the symptoms of HIV are see here.

The period that extends from a positive diagnosis to six months following transmission is known as the early period. This period is marked as being asymptomatic with no possible findings upon physical examination except for lymphadenopathy. PGL or persistent generalized lymphadenopathy is defined as enlarged lymph nodes involving at least two noncontiguous sites other than the ingunial nodes. Lymph nodes at this phase have concentrated amounts of extracellular HIV on the follicular dendritic cell processes within germinal centers and intracellular HIV predominantly in its latent form.

Many people take on careers in research and discovery to find a way to remove HIV and prevent AIDs from every occurring. HIV is a unique virus because of its ability to effectively evade one’s host immune system. HIV goes through stages of infection. HIV is sophisticated by its ability to change the receptors and targets it displays once a host immune system fights back. Without the host immune system being able to effectively target the virus within the body, HIV thrives and continues to destroy one’s white blood cells without experiencing destruction itself. Back to what is an STD from what is HIV


Other related links:

Conditions that will define an AIDS diagnosis.

HIV mortality graphs (very interesting).