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Acquired immunodeficiency syndrome or acquired immune deficiency syndrome

    (AIDS or Aids) is a collection of symptoms and infections in humans resulting from the specific damage to the immune system caused by infection with the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV),[1] the late stage of which leaves individuals prone to opportunistic infections and tumors. Although treatments for AIDS and HIV exist to slow the virus's progression, there is no known cure.

HIV is transmitted through direct contact of a mucous membrane or the bloodstream with a bodily fluid containing HIV, such as blood, semen, vaginal fluid, preseminal fluid, and breast milk.[2][3] This transmission can come in the form of: (anal, vaginal or oral) sex; blood transfusion; contaminated needles; exchange between mother and infant during pregnancy, childbirth, or breastfeeding; or other exposure to one of the above bodily fluids.

Most researchers believe that HIV originated in sub-Saharan Africa during the twentieth century;[4] it is now a pandemic, with an estimated 38.6 million people now living with the disease worldwide.[5] As of January 2006, the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) and the World Health Organization (WHO) estimate that AIDS has killed more than 25 million people since it was first recognized on December 1, 1981, making it one of the most destructive epidemics in recorded history, so much so that it has been called a pandemic. In 2005 alone, AIDS claimed an estimated 2.4 - 3.3 million lives, of which more than 570,000 were children.[5] A third of these deaths are occurring in sub-Saharan Africa, retarding economic growth by destroying human capital. Antiretroviral treatment reduces both the mortality and the morbidity of HIV infection, but routine access to antiretroviral medication is not available in all countries.[6] HIV/AIDS stigma is more severe than that associated with other life-threatening conditions and extends beyond the disease itself to providers and even volunteers involved with the care of people living with HIV.


Infection by HIV

For more details on this topic, see HIV.


Scanning electron micrograph of HIV-1 budding from cultured lymphocyte.

AIDS is the most severe manifestation of infection with HIV. HIV is a retrovirus that primarily infects vital components of the human immune system such as CD4+ T cells, macrophages and dendritic cells. It directly and indirectly destroys CD4+ T cells. CD4+ T cells are required for the proper functioning of the immune system. When HIV kills CD4+ T cells so that there are less than 200 CD4+ T cells per l blood, cellular immunity is lost, leading to AIDS. Acute HIV infection progresses over time to clinical latent HIV infection and then to early symptomatic HIV infection and later, to AIDS, which is identified on the basis of the amount of CD4+ T cells in the blood and the presence of certain infections.

In the absence of antiretroviral therapy, the median time of progression from HIV infection to AIDS is nine to ten years, and the median survival time after developing AIDS is only 9.2 months.[7] However, the rate of clinical disease progression varies widely between individuals, from two weeks up to 20 years. Many factors affect the rate of progression. These include factors that influence the body's ability to defend against HIV such as the infected person's general immune function.[8][9] Older people have weaker immune systems so they have a greater risk of faster disease progression than younger people. Poor access to health care and the existence of coexisting infections such as tuberculosis may predispose to faster disease progression.[7][10][11] The infected person's genetic inheritance plays an important role and some people are resistant to certain strains of HIV.[12] An example of this is people with the CCR5-Δ32 mutation; these people are resistant to infection with certain strains of HIV. The strain of HIV that infects someone plays a role in the disease progression rate. HIV is genetically variable and exists as different strains which cause different rates of clinical disease progression.[13][14][15] The use of highly active antiretroviral therapy prolongs both the median time of progression to AIDS and the median survival time.


Since June 5, 1981, many definitions have been developed for epidemiological surveillance such as the Bangui definition and the 1994 expanded World Health Organization AIDS case definition. However, clinical staging of patients was not an intended use for these systems as they are neither sensitive nor specific. In developing countries, the World Health Organization (WHO) staging system for HIV infection and disease, using clinical and laboratory data, is used and in developed countries, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) Classification System is used.

WHO disease staging system for HIV infection and disease

Main article: WHO Disease Staging System for HIV Infection and Disease

In 1990, the World Health Organization (WHO) grouped these infections and conditions together by introducing a staging system for patients infected with HIV-1.[16] An update took place in September 2005. Most of these conditions are opportunistic infections that are easily treatable in healthy people.

Stage I: HIV disease is asymptomatic and not categorized as AIDS

Stage II: includes minor mucocutaneous manifestations and recurrent upper respiratory tract infections

Stage III: includes unexplained chronic diarrhea for longer than a month, severe bacterial infections and pulmonary tuberculosis

Stage IV: includes toxoplasmosis of the brain, candidiasis of the esophagus, trachea, bronchi or lungs and Kaposi's sarcoma; these diseases are indicators of AIDS.

CDC classification system for HIV infection

Main article: CDC Classification System for HIV Infection

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) originally classified AIDS as GRID which stood for Gay Related Immune Disease. However, after determining that AIDS is not isolated to homosexual people the name was changed to the neutral AIDS. In 1993, the CDC expanded their definition of AIDS to include healthy HIV positive people with a CD4+ T cell count of less than 200 per l of blood. The majority of new AIDS cases in developed countries use this definition.[17] The AIDS diagnosis still stands even if, after treatment, the CD4+ T cell count rises to above 200 per l of blood or other AIDS-defining illnesses are cured.

HIV test

Main article: HIV test

Approximately half of those infected with HIV do not know their HIV status until an AIDS diagnosis is made with an HIV test. Donor blood and blood products used in medicine and medical research are screened for HIV using such a test. Typical HIV tests, including the HIV enzyme immunoassay and the Western blot assay, detect HIV antibodies in serum, plasma, oral fluid, dried blood spot or urine of patients. However, the window period (the time between initial infection and the development of detectable antibodies against the infection) can vary. This is why it can take 6-12 months to seroconvert and test positive. Commercially available tests to detect other HIV antigens, HIV-RNA, and HIV-DNA in order to detect HIV infection prior to the development of detectable antibodies are available. However, for the diagnosis of HIV infection these assays are not specifically approved, but are nonetheless routinely used in developed countries.

Symptoms and complications

A generalized graph of the relationship between HIV copies (viral load) and CD4 counts over the average course of untreated HIV infection; any particular individual's disease course may vary considerably.

The symptoms of AIDS are primarily the result of conditions that do not normally develop in individuals with healthy immune systems. Most of these conditions are infections caused by bacteria, viruses, fungi and parasites that are normally controlled by the elements of the immune system that HIV damages. Opportunistic infections are common in people with AIDS.[18] HIV affects nearly every organ system. People with AIDS also have an increased risk of developing various cancers such as Kaposi sarcoma, cervical cancer and cancers of the immune system known as lymphomas.

Additionally, people with AIDS often have systemic symptoms of infection like fevers, sweats (particularly at night), swollen glands, chills, weakness, and weight loss.[19][20] After the diagnosis of AIDS is made, the current average survival time with antiretroviral therapy is estimated to be now more than 5 years,[21] but because new treatments continue to be developed and because HIV continues to evolve resistance to treatments, estimates of survival time are likely to continue to change. Without antiretroviral therapy, death normally occurs within a year.[7] Most patients die from opportunistic infections or malignancies associated with the progressive failure of the immune system.[22]

The rate of clinical disease progression varies widely between individuals and has been shown to be affected by many factors such as host susceptibility and immune function[8][9][12] health care and co-infections,[7][22] as well as factors relating to the viral strain.[14][23][24] The specific opportunistic infections that AIDS patients develop depend in part on the prevalence of these infections in the geographic area in which the patient lives.

Major pulmonary illnesses

  • Pneumocystis jiroveci pneumonia (originally known as Pneumocystis carinii pneumonia, often-abbreviated PCP) is relatively rare in healthy, immunocompetent people but common among HIV-infected individuals. Before the advent of effective diagnosis, treatment and routine prophylaxis in Western countries, it was a common immediate cause of death. In developing countries, it is still one of the first indications of AIDS in untested individuals, although it does not generally occur unless the CD4 count is less than 200 per l.[25]
  • Tuberculosis (TB) is unique among infections associated with HIV because it is transmissible to immunocompetent people via the respiratory route, is easily treatable once identified, may occur in early-stage HIV disease, and is preventable with drug therapy. However, multi-drug resistance is a potentially serious problem. Even though its incidence has declined because of the use of directly observed therapy and other improved practices in Western countries, this is not the case in developing countries where HIV is most prevalent. In early-stage HIV infection (CD4 count >300 cells per l), TB typically presents as a pulmonary disease. In advanced HIV infection, TB often presents atypically with extrapulmonary disease a common feature. Symptoms are usually constitutional and are not localized to one particular site, often affecting bone marrow, bone, urinary and gastrointestinal tracts, liver, regional lymph nodes, and the central nervous system.[26] Alternatively, symptoms may relate more to the site of extrapulmonary involvement.

Major gastro-intestinal illnesses

  • Esophagitis is an inflammation of the lining of the lower end of the esophagus (gullet or swallowing tube leading to the stomach). In HIV infected individuals, this is normally due to fungal (candidiasis) or viral (herpes simplex-1 or cytomegalovirus) infections. In rare cases, it could be due to mycobacteria.[27]
  • Unexplained chronic diarrhea in HIV infection is due to many possible causes, including common bacterial (Salmonella, Shigella, Listeria, Campylobacter, or Escherichia coli) and parasitic infections, and uncommon opportunistic infections such as cryptosporidiosis, microsporidiosis, Mycobacterium avium complex (MAC) and cytomegalovirus (CMV) colitis. In some cases, diarrhea may be a side effect of several drugs used to treat HIV, or it may simply accompany HIV infection, particularly during primary HIV infection. It may also be a side effect of antibiotics used to treat bacterial causes of diarrhea (common for Clostridium difficile). In the later stages of HIV infection, diarrhea is thought to be a reflection of changes in the way the intestinal tract absorbs nutrients, and may be an important component of HIV-related wasting.[28]

Major neurological illnesses

  • Toxoplasmosis is a disease caused by the single-celled parasite called Toxoplasma gondii; it usually infects the brain causing toxoplasma encephalitis but it can infect and cause disease in the eyes and lungs.[29]
  • Progressive multifocal leukoencephalopathy (PML) is a demyelinating disease, in which the gradual destruction of the myelin sheath covering the axons of nerve cells impairs the transmission of nerve impulses. It is caused by a virus called JC virus which occurs in 70% of the population in latent form, causing disease only when the immune system has been severely weakened, as is the case for AIDS patients. It progresses rapidly, usually causing death within months of diagnosis.[30]
  • AIDS dementia complex (ADC) is a metabolic encephalopathy induced by HIV infection and fuelled by immune activation of HIV infected brain macrophages and microglia which secrete neurotoxins of both host and viral origin.[31] Specific neurological impairments are manifested by cognitive, behavioral, and motor abnormalities that occur after years of HIV infection and is associated with low CD4+ T cell levels and high plasma viral loads. Prevalence is 10-20% in Western countries[32] but only 1-2% of HIV infections in India.[33][34] This difference is possibly due to the HIV subtype in India.
  • Cryptococcal meningitis is an infection of the meninx (the membrane covering the brain and spinal cord) by the fungus Cryptococcus neoformans. It can cause fevers, headache, fatigue, nausea, and vomiting. Patients may also develop seizures and confusion; left untreated, it can be lethal.

Major HIV-associated malignancies

Patients with HIV infection have substantially increased incidence of several malignant cancers. This is primarily due to co-infection with an oncogenic DNA virus, especially Epstein-Barr virus (EBV), Kaposi's sarcoma-associated herpesvirus (KSHV), and human papillomavirus (HPV).[35][36] The following confer a diagnosis of AIDS when they occur in an HIV-infected person.

  • Kaposi's sarcoma (KS) is the most common tumor in HIV-infected patients. The appearance of this tumor in young homosexual men in 1981 was one of the first signals of the AIDS epidemic. Caused by a gammaherpes virus called Kaposi's sarcoma-associated herpes virus (KSHV), it often appears as purplish nodules on the skin, but can affect other organs, especially the mouth, gastrointestinal tract, and lungs.
  • High-grade B cell lymphomas such as Burkitt's lymphoma, Burkitt's-like lymphoma, and diffuse large B-cell lymphoma (DLBCL), present more often in HIV-infected patients. These particular cancers often foreshadow a poor prognosis. In some cases these lymphomas are AIDS-defining. Epstein-Barr virus (EBV) or KSHV cause many of these lymphomas.
  • Cervical cancer in HIV-infected women is considered AIDS-defining. It is caused by human papillomavirus (HPV).

In addition to the AIDS-defining tumors listed above, HIV-infected patients are at increased risk of certain other tumors, such as Hodgkin's disease and anal and rectal carcinomas. However, the incidence of many common tumors, such as breast cancer or colon cancer, does not increase in HIV-infected patients. In areas where HAART is extensively used to treat AIDS, the incidence of many AIDS-related malignancies has decreased, but at the same time malignant cancers overall have become the most common cause of death of HIV-infected patients.[37]

Other opportunistic infections

AIDS patients often develop opportunistic infections that present with non-specific symptoms, especially low-grade fevers and weight loss. These include infection with Mycobacterium avium-intracellulare and cytomegalovirus (CMV). CMV can cause colitis, as described above, and CMV retinitis can cause blindness. Penicilliosis due to Penicillium marneffei is now the third most common opportunistic infection (after extrapulmonary tuberculosis and cryptococcosis) in HIV-positive individuals within the endemic area of Southeast Asia.[38]

Transmission and prevention

Estimated per act risk for acquisition of HIV
by exposure route[39]

Exposure Route

Estimated infections per 10,000 exposures to an infected source




Blood Transfusion










Needle-sharing injection drug use





Receptive anal intercourse*





Percutaneous needle stick





Receptive penile-vaginal intercourse*





Insertive anal intercourse*





Insertive penile-vaginal intercourse*





Receptive oral intercourse*





Insertive oral intercourse*





* assuming no condom use
Source refers to oral intercourse performed on a man

The three main transmission routes of HIV are sexual contact, exposure to infected body fluids or tissues and from mother to fetus or child during perinatal period. It is possible to find HIV in the saliva, tears, and urine of infected individuals, but due to the low concentration of virus in these biological liquids, the risk is negligible.

Sexual contact

The majority of HIV infections are acquired through unprotected sexual relations between partners, one of whom has HIV. Sexual transmission occurs with the contact between sexual secretions of one partner with the rectal, genital or oral mucous membranes of another. Unprotected receptive sexual acts are riskier than unprotected insertive sexual acts, with the risk for transmitting HIV from an infected partner to an uninfected partner through unprotected insertive anal intercourse greater than the risk for transmission through vaginal intercourse or oral sex. Oral sex is not without its risks as HIV is transmissible through both insertive and receptive oral sex.[47] The risk of HIV transmission from exposure to saliva is considerably smaller than the risk from exposure to semen; contrary to popular belief, one would have to swallow gallons of saliva from a carrier to become infected.[48]

Sexually transmitted infections (STI) increase the risk of HIV transmission and infection because they cause the disruption of the normal epithelial barrier by genital ulceration and/or microulceration; and by accumulation of pools of HIV-susceptible or HIV-infected cells (lymphocytes and macrophages) in semen and vaginal secretions. Epidemiological studies from sub-Saharan Africa, Europe and North America have suggested that there is approximately a four times greater risk of becoming infected with HIV in the presence of a genital ulcer such as those caused by syphilis and/or chancroid. There is also a significant though lesser increased risk in the presence of STDs such as gonorrhea, Chlamydial infection and trichomoniasis which cause local accumulations of lymphocytes and macrophages.[49]

Transmission of HIV depends on the infectiousness of the index case and the susceptibility of the uninfected partner. Infectivity seems to vary during the course of illness and is not constant between individuals. An undetectable plasma viral load does not necessarily indicate a low viral load in the seminal liquid or genital secretions. Each 10-fold increment of seminal HIV RNA is associated with an 81% increased rate of HIV transmission.[49][50] Women are more susceptible to HIV-1 infection due to hormonal changes, vaginal microbial ecology and physiology, and a higher prevalence of sexually transmitted diseases.[51][52] People who are infected with HIV can still be infected by other, more virulent strains.

During a sexual act, only male or female condoms can reduce the chances of infection with HIV and other STDs and the chances of becoming pregnant. The best evidence to date indicates that condom use reduces the risk of heterosexual HIV transmission by approximately 80%.[53] The effective use of condoms and screening of blood transfusion in North America, Western and Central Europe is cr ed with the low rates of AIDS in these regions.

Promoting condom use, however, has often proved controversial and difficult. Many religious groups, most visibly the Catholic Church, have opposed the use of condoms on religious grounds, and have sometimes seen condom promotion as an affront to the promotion of marriage, monogamy and sexual morality. This attitude is found among some health care providers and policy makers in sub-Saharan African nations, where HIV and AIDS prevalence is extremely high.[54] They also believe that the distribution and promotion of condoms is tantamount to promoting sex amongst the youth and sending the wrong message to uninfected individuals. However, no evidence has been produced that promotion of condom use increases sexual promiscuity. However, Pope Benedict XVI commissioned a report on whether it might be acceptable for Catholics to use condoms in to protect life inside a marriage when one partner is infected with HIV, or is sick with AIDS.[55] Other religious groups, such as the Scottish Episcopalians, have argued that preventing HIV infection is a moral task in itself and that condoms are therefore acceptable or even praiseworthy from a religious point of view.

The male latex condom, if used correctly without oil-based lubricants, is the single most efficient available technology to reduce the sexual transmission of HIV and other sexually transmitted infections. Manufacturers recommend that oil-based lubricants such as petroleum jelly, butter, and lard not be used with latex condoms as they weaken the latex, making the condoms porous. If necessary, manufacturers recommend using water-based lubricants. Oil-based lubricants can however be used with polyurethane condoms.[56] Latex degrades over time, making them porous, which is why condoms have expiration dates. In Europe and the United States, condoms have to conform to European (EC 600) or American (D3492) standards to be considered protective against HIV transmission.

The female condom is an alternative to the male condom and is made from polyurethane, which allows it to be used in the presence of oil-based lubricants. They are larger than male condoms and have a stiffened ring-shaped opening, and are designed to be inserted into the vagina. The female condom contains an inner ring, which keeps the condom in place inside the vagina – inserting the female condom requires squeezing this ring.

With consistent and correct use of condoms, there is a very low risk of HIV infection. Studies on couples where one partner is infected show that with consistent condom use, HIV infection rates for the uninfected partner are below 1% per year.[57]

The United States government and health organizations both endorse the ABC Approach to lower the risk of acquiring AIDS during sex:

Abstinence or delay of sexual activity, especially for youth,

Being faithful, especially for those in committed relationships,

Condom use, for those who engage in risky behavior.

This approach has been very successful in Uganda, where HIV prevalence has decreased from 15% to 5%. However, more has been done than implementing the ABC Approach as Edward Green, a Harvard medical anthropologist put it, "Uganda has pioneered approaches towards reducing stigma, bringing discussion of sexual behavior out into the open, involving HIV-infected people in public education, persuading individuals and couples to be tested and counseled, improving the status of women, involving religious organizations, enlisting traditional healers, and much more." There is no conclusive proof that abstinence-only programs have been successful in any country in the world in changing sexual behavior or in reducing HIV transmission.[58] Instead, evaluations of several abstinence-only programs in the US showed a negative impact on the willingness of youths to use contraceptives, due to the emphasis on contraceptives' failure rates.[59] Still, condom use is heavily promoted by other programs and initiatives. Condom use is an integral part of the CNN Approach. This is:

Condom use, for those who engage in risky behavior,

Needles, use clean ones,

Negotiating skills; negotiating safer sex with a partner and empowering women to make smart choices.

Criticism of the ABC approach is widespread because a faithful partner of an unfaithful partner is at risk of contracting HIV.[60]

Current research is clarifying the relationship between male circumcision and HIV in differing social and cultural contexts. UNAIDS believes that it is premature to recommend male circumcision services as part of HIV prevention programs.[61] Moreover, South African medical experts are concerned that the repeated use of unsterilized blades in the ritual circumcision of adolescent boys may be spreading HIV.[62]

Exposure to infected body fluids

This transmission route is particularly important for intravenous drug users, hemophiliacs and recipients of blood transfusions and blood products. Sharing and reusing syringes contaminated with HIV-infected blood represents a major risk for infection with not only HIV, but also hepatitis B and hepatitis C. Needle sharing is the cause of one third of all new HIV-infections and 50% of hepatitis C infections in Northern America, China, and Eastern Europe. The risk of being infected with HIV from a single prick with a needle that has been used on an HIV infected person though is thought to be about 1 in 150 (see table above). Post-exposure prophylaxis with anti-HIV drugs can further reduce that small risk.[63] Health care workers (nurses, laboratory workers, doctors etc) are also concerned, although more rarely. This route can affect people who give and receive tattoos and piercings. Universal precautions are frequently not followed in both sub-Saharan Africa and much of Asia because of both a shortage of supplies and inadequate training. The WHO estimates that approximately 2.5% of all HIV infections in sub-Saharan Africa are transmitted through unsafe healthcare injections.[64] Because of this, the United Nations General Assembly, supported by universal medical opinion on the matter, has urged the nations of the world to implement universal precautions to prevent HIV transmission in health care settings.[65][66]

The risk of transmitting HIV to blood transfusion recipients is extremely low in developed countries where improved donor selection and HIV screening is performed. However, according to the WHO, the overwhelming majority of the world's population does not have access to safe blood and "between 5% and 10% of HIV infections worldwide are transmitted through the transfusion of infected blood and blood products".[67]

Medical workers who follow universal precautions or body substance isolation such as wearing latex gloves when giving injections and washing the hands frequently can help prevent infection of HIV.

All AIDS-prevention organizations advise drug-users not to share needles and other material required to prepare and take drugs (including syringes, cotton balls, the spoons, water for diluting the drug, straws, crack pipes, etc). It is important that people use new or properly sterilized needles for each injection. Information on cleaning needles using bleach is available from health care and addiction professionals and from needle exchanges. In some developed countries, clean needles are available free in some cities, at needle exchanges or safe injection sites. Additionally, many nations have decriminalized needle possession and made it possible to buy injection equipment from pharmacists without a prescription.

Mother to Child Transmission (MTCT)

The transmission of the virus from the mother to the child can occur in utero during the last weeks of pregnancy and at childbirth. In the absence of treatment, the transmission rate between the mother to the child during pregnancy, labor and delivery is 25%. However, when the mother has access to antiretroviral therapy and gives birth by caesarean section, the rate of transmission is just 1%.[41] A number of factors influence the risk of infection, particularly the viral load of the mother at birth (the higher the load, the higher the risk). Breastfeeding increases the risk of transmission by 10–15%. This risk depends on clinical factors and may vary according to the pattern and duration of breast-feeding.

Studies have shown that antiretroviral drugs, caesarean delivery and formula feeding reduce the chance of transmission of HIV from mother to child.[68] Current recommendations state that when replacement feeding is acceptable, feasible, affordable, sustainable and safe, HIV-infected mothers should avoid breast-feeding their infant. However, if this is not the case, exclusive breast-feeding is recommended during the first months of life and discontinued as soon as possible.[69] In 2005, around 700,000 children under 15 contracted HIV, mainly through MTCT, with 630,000 of these infections occurring in Africa.

Prevention strategies are well known in developed countries, however, recent epidemiological and behavioral studies in Europe and North America have suggested that a substantial minority of young people continue to engage in high-risk practices and that despite HIV/AIDS knowledge, young people underestimate their own risk of becoming infected with HIV. [70] However, transmission of HIV between intravenous drug users has clearly decreased, and HIV transmission by blood transfusion has become quite rare in developed countries.


There is currently no cure or vaccine against HIV or AIDS. Infection with HIV usually leads to AIDS and ultimately death. However, in western countries, most patients survive many years following diagnosis because of the availability of the highly active antiretroviral therapy (HAART).[21] In the absence of HAART, progression from HIV infection to AIDS occurs at a median of between nine to ten years and the median survival time after developing AIDS is only 9.2 months.[7] HAART dramatically increases the time from diagnosis to death, and treatment research continues.

Current optimal HAART options consist of combinations (or "cocktails") consisting of at least three drugs belonging to at least two types, or "classes," of anti-retroviral agents. Typical regimens consist of two nucleoside analogue reverse transcriptase inhibitors (NRTIs) plus either a protease inhibitor or a non-nucleoside reverse transcriptase inhibitor (NNRTI). This treatment is frequently referred to as HAART (highly-active anti-retroviral therapy).[71] Anti-retroviral treatments, along with medications intended to prevent AIDS-related opportunistic infections, have played a part in delaying complications associated with AIDS, reducing the symptoms of HIV infection, and extending patients' life spans. Over the past decade the success of these treatments in prolonging and improving the quality of life for people with AIDS has improved dramatically.[72][73]

Because HIV disease progression in children is more rapid than in adults, and laboratory parameters are less predictive of risk for disease progression, particularly for young infants, treatment recommendations are more aggressive for children than for adults.[74] In developed countries where HAART is available, doctors assess the viral load, rapidity in CD4 decline, and patient readiness while deciding when to recommend initiating treatment.[75]

There are several concerns about antiretroviral regimens, as side effects of these antiretrovirals have caused problems such as lipodystrophy, dyslipidaemia, insulin resistance, an increase in cardiovascular risks and birth defects.[76][77] Regimens can be complicated, requiring patients to take several pills at various times during the day, although treatment regimens have been greatly simplified in recent years. If patients miss doses, drug resistance can develop contributing to the rise of viral escape.[78][79] Anti-retroviral drugs are expensive, and the majority of the world's infected individuals do not have access to medications and treatments for HIV and AIDS. Research to improve current treatments includes decreasing side effects of current drugs, further simplifying drug regimens to improve adherence, and determining the best sequence of regimens to manage drug resistance.

A number of studies have shown that measures to prevent opportunistic infections can be beneficial when treating patients with HIV infection or AIDS. Vaccination against hepatitis A and B is advised for patients who are not infected with these viruses and are at risk of getting infected. In addition, AIDS patients should receive vaccination against Streptococcus pneumoniae and should receive yearly vaccination against influenza virus. Patients with substantial immunosuppression are generally advised to receive prophylactic therapy for Pneumocystis jiroveci pneumonia (PCP), and many patients may benefit from prophylactic therapy for toxoplasmosis and Cryptococcus meningitis.

Various forms of alternative medicine have been used to try to treat symptoms or to try to affect the course of the disease itself, although none are a substitute for conventional treatment.[80] In the first decade of the epidemic when no useful conventional treatment was available, a large number of people with AIDS experimented with alternative therapies. The definition of "alternative therapies" in AIDS has changed since that time. Then, the phrase often referred to community-driven treatments, not being tested by government or pharmaceutical company research, that some hoped would directly suppress the virus or stimulate immunity against it. These kinds of approaches have become less common over time as the benefits of AIDS drugs have become more apparent.

Examples of alternative medicine that people hoped would improve their symptoms or their quality of life—include massage, herbal and flower remedies and acupuncture;[80] when used with conventional treatment, many now refer to these as "complementary" approaches. None of these treatments has been proven in controlled trials to have any effect in treating HIV or AIDS directly.[81] However, some may improve feelings of well-being in people who believe in their value. Additionally, people with AIDS, like people with other illnesses such as cancer, sometimes use marijuana to treat pain, combat nausea and stimulate appetite.


Main article: AIDS pandemic

Map of the world colored to show the adult HIV prevalence per country at the end of 2005

UNAIDS and the WHO estimate that AIDS has killed more than 25 million people since it was first recognized in 1981, making it one of the most destructive epidemics in recorded history. Despite recent, improved access to antiretroviral treatment and care in many regions of the world, the AIDS epidemic claimed an estimated 2.8 million (between 2.4 and 3.3 million) lives in 2005 of which more than half a million (570,000) were children.[5]

Globally, between 33.4 and 46 million people currently live with HIV.[5] In 2005, between 3.4 and 6.2 million people were newly infected and between 2.4 and 3.3 million people with AIDS died, an increase from 2004 and the highest number since 1981.

Sub-Saharan Africa remains by far the worst affected region, with an estimated 21.6 to 27.4 million people currently living with HIV. Two million [1.5–3.0 million] of them are children younger than 15 years of age. More than 64% of all people living with HIV are in sub-Saharan Africa, as are more than three quarters (76%) of all women living with HIV. In 2005, there were 12.0 million [10.6–13.6 million] AIDS orphans living in sub-Saharan Africa 2005.[5] South & South East Asia are second worst affected with 15%. AIDS accounts for the deaths of 500,000 children in this region. Two-thirds of HIV/AIDS infections in Asia occur in India, with an estimated 5.7 million infections (estimated 3.4 - 9.4 million) (0.9% of population), surpassing South Africa's estimated 5.5 million (4.9-6.1 million) (11.9% of population) infections, making it the country with the highest number of HIV infections in the world.[82]

The latest evaluation report of the World Bank's Operations Evaluation Department assesses the development effectiveness of the World Bank's country-level HIV/AIDS assistance defined as policy dialogue, analytic work, and lending with the explicit objective of reducing the scope or impact of the AIDS epidemic.[83] This is the first comprehensive evaluation of the World Bank's HIV/AIDS support to countries, from the beginning of the epidemic through mid-2004. Because the Bank's assistance is for implementation of government programs by government, it provides important insights on how national AIDS programs can be made more effective.

The development of HAART as effective therapy for HIV infection and AIDS has substantially reduced the death rate from this disease in those areas where it is widely available. This has created the misperception that the disease has gone away. In fact, as the life expectancy of persons with AIDS has increased in countries where HAART is widely used, the number of persons living with AIDS has increased substantially. In the United States, the number of persons with AIDS increased from about 35,000 in 1988 to over 220,000 in 1996.[84]

In the 35 African nations with the highest prevalence, average life expectancy is 48.3 years—6.5 years less than it would be without the disease. For the eleven countries in Africa with prevalence rates above 13%, life expectancy is 47.7 years—11.0 years less than would be expected without HIV/AIDS.

In Africa, the number of MTCT and the prevalence of AIDS is beginning to reverse decades of steady progress in child survival. Countries such as Uganda are attempting to curb the MTCT epidemic by offering VCT (voluntary counseling and testing), PMTCT (prevention of mother-to-child transmission) and ANC (ante-natal care) services, which include the distribution of antiretroviral therapy.

Economic impact

Changes in life expectancy in several African countries.

HIV and AIDS retard economic growth by destroying human capital. UNAIDS has predicted outcomes for sub-Saharan Africa to the year 2025. These range from a plateau and eventual decline in deaths beginning around 2012 to a catastrophic continual growth in the death rate with potentially 90 million cases of infection.[69]

Without proper nutrition, health care and medicine that is available in developed countries, large numbers of people in these countries are falling victim to AIDS. They will not only be unable to work, but will also require significant medical care. The forecast is that this will likely cause a collapse of economies and societies in the region. In some heavily infected areas, the epidemic has left behind many orphans cared for by elderly grandparents.

The increased mortality in this region will result in a smaller skilled population and labor force.[85] This smaller labor force will be predominantly young people, with reduced knowledge and work experience leading to reduced productivity. An increase in workers’ time off to look after sick family members or for sick leave will also lower productivity. Increased mortality will also weaken the mechanisms that generate human capital and investment in people, through loss of income and the death of parents.[85] By killing off mainly young adults, AIDS seriously weakens the taxable population, reducing the resources available for public expenditures such as education and health services not related to AIDS resulting in increasing pressure for the state's finances and slower growth of the economy. This then results in slower growth of the tax base, an effect that will be reinforced if there are growing expenditures on treating the sick, training (to replace sick workers) and sick pay and caring for AIDS orphans, especially if the sharp increase in adult mortality shifts the onus from the family to the government in caring for these orphans.

On the level of the household, AIDS results in both the loss of income and increased spending on healthcare by the household. The income effects of this lead to spending reduction as well as a substitution effect away from education and towards healthcare and funeral spending. A study in Cte d'Ivoire showed that households with an HIV/AIDS patient spent twice as much on medical expenses as other households.[86]

UNAIDS, WHO and the United Nations Development Programme have documented a correlation between the decreasing life expectancies and the lowering of gross national product in many African countries with prevalence rates of 10% or more. Indeed, since 1992 predictions that AIDS would slow economic growth in these countries have been published. The degree of impact depended on assumptions about the extent to which illness would be funded by savings and who would be infected.[87] Conclusions reached from models of the growth trajectories of 30 sub-Saharan economies over the period 1990–2025 were that the economic growth rates of these countries would be between 0.56 and 1.47% lower. The impact on gross domestic product (GDP) per capita was less conclusive. However, in 2000, the rate of growth of Africa's per capita GDP was in fact reduced by 0.7% per year from 1990–1997 with a further 0.3% per year lower in countries also affected by malaria.[88] The forecast now is that the growth of GDP for these countries will undergo a further reduction of between 0.5 and 2.6% per annum.[85] However, these estimates may be an underestimate, as they do not look at the effects on output per capita.[89]

Many governments in sub-Saharan Africa denied that there was a problem for years, and are only now starting to work towards solutions. Underfunding is a problem in all areas of HIV prevention when compared to even conservative estimates of the problems.


AIDS stigma exists around the world in a variety of ways, including ostracism, rejection, discrimination and avoidance of HIV infected people; compulsory HIV testing without prior consent or protection of confidentiality; violence against HIV infected individuals or people who are perceived to be infected with HIV; and the quarantine of HIV infected individuals.

AIDS stigma has been further divided into the following three categories:

  1. Instrumental AIDS stigma—a reflection of the fear and apprehension that are likely to be associated with any deadly and transmissible illness.[90]
  2. Symbolic AIDS stigma—the use of HIV/AIDS to express attitudes toward the social groups or “lifestyles” perceived to be associated with the disease.[90]
  3. Courtesy AIDS stigma—stigmatization of people connected to the issue of HIV/AIDS or HIV- positive people.[91]

Often, AIDS stigma is expressed in conjunction with one or more other stigmas, particularly those associated with homosexuality, bisexuality, and injection drug use.

In many developed countries, there is still a perceived association between AIDS and homosexuality or bisexuality, and this association is correlated with higher levels of sexual prejudice such as anti-homosexual attitudes. There is also a perceived association between all male-male sexual behavior and AIDS, even sex between two uninfected men. Those most likely to hold misconceptions about HIV transmission and to harbor HIV/AIDS stigma are people with high levels of religiosity, conservative political ideology and less educated people.[92][93]

For more details on this topic, see Stigma and HIV-AIDS, A review of the literature [94]

Origin of HIV

Main article: AIDS origin

The AIDS epidemic was discovered June 5, 1981, when the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported a cluster of Pneumocystis carinii pneumonia (now classified as Pneumocystis jiroveci pneumonia) in five homosexual men in Los Angeles.[95] Originally dubbed GRID, or Gay-Related Immune Deficiency, health authorities soon realized that nearly half of the people identified with the syndrome were not homosexual men. In 1982, the CDC introduced the term AIDS to describe the newly recognized syndrome.

Three of the earliest known instances of HIV infection are as follows:

  1. A plasma sample taken in 1959 from an adult male living in what is now the Democratic Republic of Congo.[96]
  2. HIV found in tissue samples from an American teenager who died in St. Louis in 1969.
  3. HIV found in tissue samples from a Norwegian sailor who died around 1976.

Two species of HIV infect humans: HIV-1 and HIV-2. HIV-1 is more virulent and more easily transmitted. HIV-1 is the source of the majority of HIV infections throughout the world, while HIV-2 is less easily transmitted and is largely confined to West Africa.[97] Both HIV-1 and HIV-2 are of primate origin. The origin of HIV-1 is the Central Common Chimpanzee (Pan troglodytes troglodytes) found in southern Cameroon.[98] It is established that HIV-2 originated from the Sooty Mangabey (Cercocebus atys), an Old World monkey of Guinea Bissau, Gabon, and Cameroon.

Although a variety of theories exist explaining the transfer of HIV to humans, there is no widely accepted scientific consensus of any single hypothesis and the topic remains controversial. Freelance journalist Tom Curtis discussed one currently controversial possibility for the origin of HIV/AIDS in a 1992 Rolling Stone magazine article. He put forward what is now known as the OPV AIDS hypothesis, which suggests that AIDS was inadvertently caused in the late 1950s in the Belgian Congo by Hilary Koprowski's research into a polio vaccine.[99] Although subsequently retracted due to libel issues surrounding its claims, the Rolling Stone article motivated another freelance journalist, Edward Hooper, to probe more deeply into this subject. Hooper's research resulted in his publishing a 1999 book, The River, in which he alleged that an experimental oral polio vaccine prepared using chimpanzee kidney tissue was the route through which simian immunodeficiency virus (SIV) crossed into humans to become HIV, thus starting the human AIDS pandemic.[100]

Alternative theories

Main article: AIDS reappraisal

A minority of scientists and activists question the connection between HIV and AIDS,[101] or the existence of HIV,[102] or the validity of current testing methods. These claims are met with resistance by, and often evoke frustration and hostility from, most of the scientific community, who accuse the dissidents of ignoring evidence in favor of HIV's role in AIDS, and irresponsibly posing a dangerous threat to public health by their continued activities.[103]

Some assert that the current mainstream approach to AIDS, based on HIV causation, has resulted in inaccurate diagnoses, psychological terror, toxic treatments, and a squandering of public funds. The debate and controversy regarding this issue from the early 1980s to the present has provoked heated emotions and passions from both sides.

Common misconceptions

A number of misconceptions have arisen surrounding HIV/AIDS. Three of the most common are that AIDS can spread through casual contact, that sexual intercourse with a virgin will cure AIDS, and that HIV can only infect homosexual men and drug users.

One possibility for the misconception that AIDS only infects homosexual men is that AIDS was termed Gay Related Immune Deficiency Syndrome when it was first recognized in 1981. HIV appears to have entered the United States around the late 1960s, and seems to have then been unknowingly spread by homosexuals throughout the U.S. and Europe. In a survey on AIDS conducted in 1983, in Belgium, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Norway, Sweden, Switzerland, and the United Kingdom, a slight majority of those infected with HIV were male homosexuals (58% of all cases).

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