World AIDS Day
December 1 is World AIDS Day. This day has been set aside so that our attention is directed to the current status of the human immunodeficiency virus/acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (HIV/AIDS) epidemic worldwide. This year’s theme is “Leading with Science, Uniting for Action.” In the United States alone approximately 575,000 people diagnosed with AIDS have died since the first cases were reported 30 years ago and approximately 50,000 persons are infected with HIV each year. It is estimated 1.2 million people in the United States are living with HIV infection. HIV and AIDS affects minorities and women at a high rate.
- In the District of Columbia, the cumulative number of reported AIDS cases from the beginning of the epidemic in 1981 through 1996, is 9,414.
- 1,262 new cases were reported in the District of Columbia in the past year.
- In the District of Columbia, the cumulative total number of reported AIDS cases among the following populations is:
White, not Hispanic-
American Indian/Alaskan Native-
- In the District of Columbia, 15.04% of the total number of reported AIDS cases are among women.
- In the District of Columbia, the percentage of the cumulative total number of reported AIDS cases among the following age groups is:
Thoughts of AIDS often create hysteria in people. MayoClinic.com provides the following definitions and information.
AIDS is a chronic, potentially life-threatening condition caused by the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV). By damaging your immune system, HIV interferes with your body's ability to fight the organisms that cause disease.
HIV is a sexually transmitted disease. It can also be spread by contact with infected blood, or from mother to child during pregnancy, childbirth or breast-feeding. It can take years before HIV weakens your immune system to the point that you have AIDS.
There's no cure for HIV/AIDS, but there are medications that can dramatically slow the progression of the disease. These drugs have reduced AIDS deaths in many developed nations. But HIV continues to decimate populations in Africa, Haiti and parts of Asia.
The symptoms of HIV and AIDS vary, depending on the phase of infection.
Within the first few weeks
When first infected with HIV, you may have no signs or symptoms at all, although you're still able to transmit the virus to others. Many people develop a brief flu-like illness two to four weeks after becoming infected. Signs and symptoms may include:
- Sore throat
- Swollen lymph glands
You may remain symptom-free for years. But as the virus continues to multiply and destroy immune cells, you may develop mild infections or chronic symptoms such as:
- Swollen lymph nodes — often one of the first signs of HIV infection
- Weight loss
- Cough and shortness of breath
Progression to AIDS
If you receive no treatment for your HIV infection, the disease typically progresses to AIDS in about 10 years. By the time AIDS develops, your immune system has been severely damaged, making you susceptible to opportunistic infections — diseases that wouldn't trouble a person with a healthy immune system. The signs and symptoms of some of these infections may include:
- Soaking night sweats
- Shaking chills or fever higher than 100 F (38 C) for several weeks
- Cough and shortness of breath
- Chronic diarrhea
- Persistent white spots or unusual lesions on your tongue or in your mouth
- Persistent, unexplained fatigue
- Blurred and distorted vision
- Weight loss
- Skin rashes or bumps
When to see a doctor
If you think you may have been infected with HIV or are at risk of contracting the virus, seek medical counseling as soon as possible.
Scientists believe a virus similar to HIV first occurred in some populations of chimps and monkeys in Africa, where they're hunted for food. Contact with an infected monkey's blood during butchering or cooking may have allowed the virus to cross into humans and become HIV.
How does HIV become AIDS?
HIV destroys CD4 cells — a specific type of white blood cell that plays a large role in helping your body fight disease. Your immune system weakens as more CD4 cells are killed. You can have an HIV infection for years before it progresses to AIDS.
To be diagnosed with AIDS, you must have a CD4 count under 200 or experience an AIDS-defining complication, such as:
- Pneumocystis jiroveci pneumonia
How HIV is transmitted
To become infected with HIV, infected blood, semen or vaginal secretions must enter your body. You can't become infected through ordinary contact — hugging, kissing, dancing or shaking hands — with someone who has HIV or AIDS. HIV can't be transmitted through the air, water or via insect bites.
You can become infected with HIV in several ways, including:
- During sex. You may become infected if you have vaginal, anal or oral sex with an infected partner whose blood, semen or vaginal secretions enter your body. The virus can enter your body through mouth sores or small tears that sometimes develop in the rectum or vagina during sexual activity.
- Blood transfusions. In some cases, the virus may be transmitted through blood transfusions. American hospitals and blood banks now screen the blood supply for HIV antibodies, so this risk is very small.
- Sharing needles. HIV can be transmitted through needles and syringes contaminated with infected blood. Sharing intravenous drug paraphernalia puts you at high risk of HIV and other infectious diseases such as hepatitis.
- From mother to child. Infected mothers can infect their babies during pregnancy or delivery, or through breast-feeding. But if women receive treatment for HIV infection during pregnancy, the risk to their babies is significantly reduced.
Tests and diagnosis
HIV is most commonly diagnosed by testing your blood or saliva for the presence of antibodies to the virus. Unfortunately, these types of HIV tests aren't accurate immediately after infection because it takes time for your body to develop these antibodies — usually up to 12 weeks. In rare cases, it can take up to six months for an HIV antibody test to become positive.
A newer type of test checks for HIV antigen, a protein produced by the virus immediately after infection. This test can confirm a diagnosis within days of infection. An earlier diagnosis may prompt people to take extra precautions to prevent transmission of the virus to others.
Treatments and drugs
There is no cure for HIV/AIDS, but a variety of drugs can be used in combination to control the virus. Each of the classes of anti-HIV drugs blocks the virus in different ways. It's best to combine at least three drugs from two different classes to avoid creating strains of HIV that are immune to single drugs.
For additional information, please visit one or more of the following websites:
It is hoped that by highlighting the seriousness of this epidemic on World AIDS Day worldwide efforts to fight AIDS will be intensified.