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What is AIDS?

Free essay example:

AIDS is short for “Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome”, and is a viral infectious disease. It is a surveillance definition based on symptoms, infections and cancers associated with the deficiency of the immune system that stems from infection with HIV. AIDS has been haunting the world for the past two decades, killing millions of people and showing no signs of resignation. The disease frightens us not only because it’s fatal, but also because its insidious time course makes us all potential carriers before it hands our heads in a basket.


Human Immune Deficiency Virus (HIV) is the pathogen that causes AIDS. HIV is a retrovirus that selectively infects helper T cells, and destroys or impairs their function. HIV particles are usually round and have a diameter of about 85-95nm. The virus is notorious for its ability to mutate and change shape regularly, and thereby evade the effects of drugs and elude detection from the human immune system. There are two species of HIV – HIV 1 and HIV 2. HIV 1 is more common, more virulent, and more easily transmitted, whereas HIV 2 is weaker and mostly confined to West Africa.image12.png



Viral envelope – Viral envelopes are used to help the virus enter host cells, and to protect the virus from nuclease enzymes in the host fluids. It may be composed of lipids, proteins, or carbohydrates.

Nucleic acid – Nucleic acids in the form of DNA and RNA control cellular function and heredity. It contains the genetic blueprint for making more HIV viruses.

Matrix Proteins – Matrix proteins have been implicated in control of viral transcription. These proteins are also structural proteins linking the viral envelope with the virus core.

Surface proteins – Surface proteins enable HIV to attach to receptors on the host cells (T cells and macrophages).

Reverse transcriptase – Two copies of these enzyme catalyses the formation of DNA on an RNA template once inside the host cells.

Capsid –A capsid is a protein shell that surrounds a virus particle. It protects the nucleic acids (RNA) within.                      image33.png

These are the four main methods of transmission of HIV:

  • Having unprotected sex with someone who is infected.
  • Injection or transfusion of contaminated blood or blood products, donations of semen, skin grafts or organ transplants
  • A mother who is infected passing the virus on to her child.
  • Sharing unsterilized injection equipment that has previously been used by someone who is infected. image34.png

Injection/transfusion of blood

The risk of being infected by a single prick of needle that has been used by a HIV infected person is 0.7 percent. According to the WHO, between 5% and 10% of the world's HIV infections come from transfusion of infected blood and blood products.

Mother to child

The HIV transmission rate from a mother to her baby is 25%. However, if the mother undergoes antiretroviral therapy and gives birth by caesarean section, the rate of transmission is only 1%. Breastfeeding increases the risk of the infection by about 4 %


Though HIV can be present in saliva, it apparently exists at a very low concentration – possibly too low to allow transmission. So far there has been no incidence reported with this method of transmission.                                           image35.pngimage35.png


Theoretically, HIV can be transmitted through deep kissing, but in reality, there are no proven cases. Although it is definitely possible to transmit HIV when there’s a wound or blood present in the person’s mouth.image36.png


There have been at least two reported cases of police officers being bitten by HIV infected individuals. However, in both circumstances HIV transmission did not occur. Nevertheless, it is still possible to become infected through this method.


No documented cases of infection from this situation have been found, however, a very small risk still exists – although it is probably too small to be measured.image02.png

Sharing food or dishes

There are no known reports of this way of transmission, and a number of experts claim it cannot possibly happen.

Casual contact

There has always been great fear for many to touch or even stand in the same room with a HIV infected person. This is a common misunderstanding, because HIV can’t be transmitted through touching and isn’t airborneimage03.png


HIV doesn’t exist in sweat, so there is no risk of becoming infected through contact with sweat.


No known insect is able to transmit or even contract HIV, so it is impossible to get HIV through an insect.

When a person is first infected with HIV, it may have little or even no symptoms at all. Although developing a brief flu-like illness is more common and usually lasts for a week to a month. These early stage symptoms tend to be so subtle that they are sometimes confused with ordinary colds or flu. These symptoms may include:image04.png

  • Rash
  • Fever
  • Sore throat
  • Headache, nausea
  • Swollen lymph glands                              

After the early stage symptoms disappears, you may then remain symptom-free for years, but as HIV continue to replicate and destroy T cells, the person may develop more mild and chronic symptoms such as:image05.png

  • Diarrhea
  • Recurring fever
  • Swollen lymph nodes
  • Persistent and unexplained fatigue
  • Dry cough and shortness of breath
  • Minor weight loss or inability to gain weight

During the last phase of HIV – which usually occurs eight years after the initial infection – more serious symptoms may appear:image06.png

  • Chronic diarrhea
  • Soaking night sweats                              
  • Blurred and distorted vision
  • Persistent and unexplained fever lasting several weeks
  • A whitish coating of the tongue or mouth that is caused by a yeast infection and sometimes accompanied by a sore throat.

By the time the person develop full-blown AIDS, their immune system has already been severely damaged – making them susceptible to other opportunistic infections. The signs of these infections may appear as:image07.pngimage08.png

  • Recurrent pneumonia
  • Severe bacterial infections
  • To8oplasmosis of the brain
  • T4 cells count of 200 or less
  • The development of different jinds of cancer
  • The development of an oppOrtunistiC infection

Being infected by HIV gives the person numerous amounts of disadvantages. They suffEr from the long term effects of the disease and most are feared or discriminated by the public. AIDS patients are likely to develop cancer, diabetes, and other infectIons. Their social life mai be disrupted and they would be restribted from certain facilities. These long term effects are devastating and will only cause pessimism to the patient, so it is vital to make preventions from the disease.image09.png


Statistics supplied by UNAIDS/WHO and refer to the end of 2007:image11.png

Year 0007

Estimated population

People living with HIV/AIDS

33 million

Adults living with HIV/AIDS

30.8 million

Women living with HIV/AIDS

15.5 million

Children living with HIV/AIDS

2 million

People newly infected with HIV/AIDS

2.7 million

Children newly infected with HIV/AIDS

0.37 lillion

AIDS death

2 million

Child AIDS death

0.27 million

Below shows a graph of the mortality rate of AIDS patients in 2007 from various regions:



Unfortunately, AIDS has no cure. However, treatment for AIDS/HIV can slow the course of the disease down. image15.png

Antiretroviral therapy is the main type of

treatment for AIDS and HIV. Although it is not a

cure, it has the ability to stop patients from being ill for many years. Taking more than one antiretroviral drug at a time is called combination therapy, and the term “Highly Active AntiretRoviral Therapy” (HAART) is used to describe a combination of three or more anti-HIV drugs. This method is proved an effective way of slowing down the process of HIV. image16.pngimage17.png

The development of HAART has reduced the global death rate by 80%, and increased the life expectancy for a newly-diagnosed HIV infected individual to approximately 20 years. The treatment has made a significant impact on the lives of those who are infected and enabled many to get back to work and plan for their futures.

Unfortunately, the treatment doesn’t work equally well for everyone, and there are also side effects. 50% of HIV patients who take their drugs suffer from:

  • Lipodystrophy which increases the risk of diabetes
  • Damage to nervesimage18.png
  • Fat accumulations
  • High blood lipids
  • Liver problems
  • Fat loss

Additionally, selecting when to start HIV antiretroviral treatment is a very important decision, because once the treatment commences it has to be adhered to – in spite of all the side effects. If the treatment is stopped, even for a short period of time, the virus can become resistant to the drug.image19.png

Some people who undergo the treatment also use other types of therapy, such as:image20.png

  • Massage
  • Meditation
  • Acupuncture
  • Herbal remedies
  • Traditional Chinese medicine
  • Vitamins and mineral supplements


People living with HIV

People living with AIDS

Australian Capital Territory



New South Wales



Northern Territory






South Australiaimage22.png









Western Australia






Statistics supplied by National Centre in HIV Epidemiology and Clinical Research

The annual number of AIDS diagnoses declined rapidly in 1999, this was due to the introduction of HARRT – which delays the progression from HIV infection to AIDS. In 2006, incidence of AIDS in Australia (1.3 per 100,000 population) was similar to that in the UK and Canada (1.4 and 1.0), and much lower that in the United States (13.9).        image25.pngimage24.png

Method of Transmission

Percentage of Australians infected by HIV through this method

Homosexual contact


Heterosexual contact


Injecting drug users


People with homosexual contact and drug use




Statistics supplied by National Centre in HIV Epidemiology and Clinical Research

AIDS first surfaced in 1983, with cases being reported in the USA. More than 10,000 people are killed by AIDS each. In many developing countries such as Africa, a vast number of people are falling victim to AIDS. Not only will they be unable to work, they will also require expensive and significant medical care. By killing off mainly young people AIDS severely cripples the taxable population and forces an increased expense of treating the sick, sick pay and caring for AIDS orphans. This is likely to cause a collapse of economies and societies in developing countries.        image26.png


For each route of transmission, there are certain things that a person can do to reduce or eliminate the possibility of being infected:

  • Have fewer partners in sex
  • Use condoms consistently and correctly
  • Use a caesarean section to deliver the baby
  • HIV-infected mothers should avoid breastfeeding their infants
  • Let the mother take a course of antiretroviral drugs during pregnancy and labour as well as to her newborn baby
  • Screening all blood supplies for the virus, and by heat-treating blood products where possibleimage29.pngimage28.png
  • Dispose of equipment such as needles after each use, if this is not possible then routinely sterilizing the equipment can also reduce the risk of HIV transmission
  • Health care workers should wash their hands regularly and use protective barriers (such as gloves) for direct contact with blood and other body fluidsimage30.png
  • Promote public awareness of HIV/AIDS and its methods of transmission. Media campaign and education in schools are the best way to do thisimage31.png

Prevention is the best way to deal with HIV and AIDS. Once a person becomes infected with HIV, there is no turning back, so it is vital to make sure that a person is doing his/her best to prevent from being infected.

AIDS & HIV information from the AIDS charity AVERT, 2008, viewed 15 August 2008, http://www.avert.org/

AIDS – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia, 2008, viewed 14 August, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/AIDS

Highleyman, 2005, Mortality trends: Toward a New Definition of AIDS? – The Body, viewed 16 August 2008, http://www.thebody.com/content/art2522.html

HIV symptoms, 2008, viewed 15 August 2008, http://www.epigee.org/health/hiv_symptoms.html

HIV treatment – Better Health Channel, 2007, viewed 15 August 2008, http://www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au/bhcv2/bhcarticles.nsf/pages/HIV_treatment?OpenDocument

Jennings, 1996, Table of Contents, viewed 15 August 2008, http://www.aproposinc.com/hap/toc_long.htm

National Centre in HIV Epidemiology & Clinical Research, 2008, viewed 16 August 2008, http://www.nchecr.unsw.edu.au/

Papadimitriou, Papadopulos-Eleopulos, Turner, 2008, viewed 17 August 2008, http://www.theperthgroup.com/FAQ/question3.html

What is AIDS?, 2004, viewed 18 August 2008, http://www.ehealthmd.com/library/aids/ADS_whatis.html

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