Acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS) is a chronic, potentially life-threatening condition caused by the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV). HIV interferes with the body’s immune system exponentially increasing the risk of developing infections. It can be transmitted through sexual contact, through blood or through childbirth, during pregnancy, or breast-feeding. The viral infection becomes AIDS by attacking a specific type of white cells, CD4 cells that play a significant role in the body’s immune system. Without medication it may take years before the virus weakens the immune system. There is no cure for HIV/AIDS, but there are medications that dramatically slow down the progression of the disease.


To become exposed to HIV, infected blood, semen or vaginal secretions have to enter the body


Several ways of infection may be:

Engaging in sex (via infected secretions entering the body or via related sores and small tears in tissue)

From blood transfusions

By sharing needles – sharing drug related objects increases the risk of infection with HIV

During pregnancy, delivery or breast-feeding

Symptoms and signs

Primary infection (acute HIV):


The majority of people develop flu-like symptoms within a month or two after the infection and it may last for a few weeks



Muscle aches or joint pains


Sore throat

Swollen lymph glands, especially in the neck area

Although at this stage, symptoms are usually mild and can even pass unnoticed, it is at this time that the amount of virus in the bloodstream is at its peak, spreading at efficient rates


Clinical latent infection (chronic HIV):


Persistent swelling of lymph nodules in some people

Otherwise, no specific signs and symptoms

The virus is still traceable in the white blood cells

This stage lasts usually for about 10 years if no antiretroviral treatment (consisting of a combination of several medications for slowing down the virus’ multiplication rate) is being administered (although it can also progress much sooner)

It can last for decades if antiretroviral treatment is being administered


Early symptomatic HIV infection:




Swollen lymph nodes


Weight loss

Oral yeast infection

Herpes zoster (a type of viral infection caused by the varicella-zoster virus, producing a red skin rash that is usually accompanied by pain and a burning sensation)


Progression to AIDS:


With no treatment, the disease usually progresses to AIDS in 10 years

By the time the progression is completed the immune system is severely weakened and extremely susceptible to opportunistic infections

Opportunistic infections are types of infections that occur more frequently and are more severe in individuals with weakened immune systems (including HIV sufferers)

Some of the most common opportunistic infections are: candidiasis of bronchi, trachea, esophagus, or lungs; invasive cervical cancer; herpes simplex, chronic ulcer, bronchitis, pneumonitis, esophagitis, histoplasmosis, lymphoma, tuberculosis etc.


General signs and symptoms:


Soaking night sweats


Chronic diarrhea

Persistent white lesions on tongue or in mouth

Persistent fatigue

Weight loss

Skin bumps or rashes


There is no cure for HIV/AIDS


Each class of anti-HIV drugs blocks the virus in different ways


Treatment is more effective when combining three drugs from two classes to avoid creating strains of the virus that become immune to single drugs


Non-nucleoside reverse transcriptase inhibitors (NNRTIs):

They work by disabling the protein needed by HIV to multiply and spread itself


Nucleoside or nucleotide reverse transcriptase inhibitors (NRTIs):

NRTIs function by replacing versions of building blocks needed by the virus to multiply itself

These building blocks are especially made to be faulty and inhibit the process of virus replication


Protease inhibitors (PIs):

These drugs work by blocking a protein (protease) needed by the HIV virus in order to replicate itself


Entry or fusion inhibitors:

These drugs block the virus’ entry into the CD4 cells


Integrase inhibitors:

The drugs disable integrase, the protein used by the HIV virus in order to insert its genetic material into the CD4 cells


HIV treatment should be started regardless of CD4 cell count


Treatment may be required for the rest of one’s life


Side effects can include:

Nausea, vomiting, diarrhea

Heart disease

Weakened bones

Breakdown of muscle tissue

Abnormal cholesterol levels

Higher blood sugar levels

    • HIV is transmittable through the air, water or by insects
    • If antiretroviral treatment is administered, progression towards AIDS does not occur
    • Mosquitoes are carriers of HIV
    • Being HIV positive is a death sentence
    • Heterosexuality shields from contracting the virus
    • If receiving treatment, the virus cannot be spread to sexual partners – even though the virus may be undetectable in blood tests after antiretroviral treatment, the virus is still present in the system, so it can be easily transmitted through unprotected sex
    • If two partners are HIV positive, then there is no need to engage in safe sex – practicing safer sex can protect both partners from becoming exposed to other strains of HIV
    • One can just tell if someone is HIV positive – symptoms may not be noticeable
    • HIV cannot be contracted from practicing oral sex

According to the World Health Organization there were approximately 36.9 million people worldwide living with HIV/AIDS, at the end of 2014


Out of the total, 2.6 million were children (<15 years old)


According to WHO, an estimated 2.0 million people worldwide became infected with HIV in 2014


Most of these children live in sub-Saharan Africa and were infected by their HIV-positive mothers during birth, breastfeeding or during pregnancy


Sub-Saharan Africa accounts for almost 70% of the global total of new HIV infections


According to UNAIDS in 2014, 73% of the estimated 1.5 million pregnant women worldwide living with HIV were accessing retroviral therapy to avoid transmission of HIV to their children – new HIV infections in children dropped by 58% from 2000 to 2014

Did you know?

People infected with HIV progress to AIDS when CD4 count falls below 200 cells/mm3


In healthy, uninfected people, CD4 count ranges from 500 cells/mm3 to 1.200 cells/mm3


CD4 cells are often called T-cells or T-cell helpers


The window period is the amount of time after potential exposure to HIV but before tests can accurately diagnose the disease


Retesting is necessary for an accurate diagnosis


Famous personalities with HIV/AIDS: Freddie Mercury, Charlie Sheen, Arthur Ashe (three-time Grand Slam winner), Anthony Perkins, Magic Johnson, Rock Hudson, Liberace, Keith Haring