Acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS) is an infectious disease caused by the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV). It was first recognized in the United States in 1981. AIDS is the advanced form of infection with the HIV virus, which may not cause recognizable disease for a long period after the initial exposure (latency). No vaccine is currently available to prevent HIV infection. At present, all forms of AIDS therapy are focused on improving the quality and length of life for AIDS patients by slowing or halting the replication of the virus and treating or preventing infections and cancers that take advantage of a person’s weakened immune system.
AIDS is considered one of the most devastating public health problems in recent history. In June 2000, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported that 120,223 (includes only those cases in areas that have confidential HIV reporting) in the United States are HIV-positive, and 311,701 are living with AIDS (includes only those cases where vital status is known). Of these patients, 44% are gay or bisexual men, 20% are heterosexual intravenous drug users, and 17% are women. In addition, approximately 1,000-2,000 children are born each year with HIV infection. The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that
33 million adults and 1.3 million children worldwide were living with HIV/AIDS as of 1999 with 5.4 million being newly infected that year. Most of these cases are in the developing countries of Asia and Africa.
AIDS can be transmitted in several ways. The risk factors for HIV transmission vary according to category:
- Sexual contact.
Persons at greatest risk are those who do not practice safe sex, those who are not monogamous, those who participate in anal intercourse, and those who have sex with a partner with symptoms of advanced HIV infection and/or other sexually transmitted
diseases (STDs). In the United States and Europe, most cases of sexually transmitted HIV infection have resulted from homosexual contact, whereas in Africa, the disease is spread primarily through sexual intercourse among heterosexuals.
- Transmission in pregnancy.
High-risk mothers include women married to bisexual men or men who have an abnormal blood condition called hemophilia and
require blood transfusions, intravenous drug users, and women living in neighborhoods with a high rate of HIV infection among heterosexuals. The chances of transmitting the disease to the child are higher in women in advanced stages of the disease. Breast feeding increases the risk of transmission by 10-20%. The use of zidovudine (AZT) during pregnancy, however, can decrease the risk of transmission to the baby.
- Exposure to contaminated blood or blood products.
With the introduction of blood product screening in the mid-1980s, the incidence of HIV transmission in blood transfusions has dropped to one in every 100,000 transfused. With respect to HIV transmission among drug abusers, risk increases with the duration of using injections, the frequency of needle sharing, the number of persons who share a needle, and the number of AIDS cases in the local population.
- Needle sticks among health care professionals.
Present studies indicate that the risk of HIV transmission by a needle stick is about one in 250. This rate can be decreased if the injured worker is given AZT, an anti-retroviral medication, in combination with other medication.
HIV is not transmitted by handshakes or other casual non-sexual contact, coughing or sneezing, or by bloodsucking insects such as mosquitoes.
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No Hiv, No Aids on January 26th 2007