HIV vs. AIDS: Epidemic proportions

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Difference between HIV and AIDS

We are all acutely aware with the pandemic caused by a potentially fatal virus that continues to spread all over different parts of the world. HIV / AIDS—we hear these terms often in discussions, but are we aware of the gravity of the present situation?A study conducted in 2008 by an international group fighting HIV / AIDS has found that there are over 33 million people all over the world living with HIV / AIDS, with over 14 million being African orphans. These numbers continue to rise quickly, a sign that we should all not just familiarize ourselves with this condition, but take immediate and responsible action to avoid contracting the disease.But what exactly is HIV and AIDS? Though it may seem that these two terms are used interchangeably, there are distinct characteristics that make the two different from one another.

HIV
AIDS

Definition

HIV, or Human Immunodeficiency Virus, is a lentivirus (or, a “slow” virus with quite a long incubation period) that eventually breaks down and attacks the human immune system—a built-in system for protection and defense—before leading the human body to fatal conditions. To this day there are two known species, HIV-1 and HIV-2, the former being more infective.AIDS, or Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome, is the main disease caused by HIV. At this point, when the human immune system has been considerably weakened, people infected with AIDS will experience conditions brought about by parasites, bacteria and other viruses that are normally guarded against by the immune system.As of this moment there are treatments that help prolong a victim’s life by slowing the disease, but no cure has been found for HIV or AIDS.

Stages, Signs and Symptoms

There are four stages of HIV, the fourth one ultimately being AIDS. The first is the incubation period—which may last between two to four weeks—where there are no visible signs or recognizable symptoms. The second is the period of acute infection—which may take up to four weeks—where symptoms such as sore throat, swelling of lymph nodes and the occurrence of fever take place. The third stage, latency, may not show many symptoms and may last up to fifteen to twenty years.AIDS, the fourth and final stage develops along with the onset of one or more bodily infections; this is a visible sign that the immune system is weakened or even defeated by the virus. Pulmonary and gastrointestinal diseases may develop; AIDS victims are also highly exposed to the possibility of developing cancer.

Transmission and Avoidance

HIV / AIDS is transmitted through the use of contaminated needles (in drug use, for instance), unprotected sexual contact, vertical transmission and through bodily fluids such as breast milk and semen.Since HIV initially show no symptoms at all, it is important to keep oneself aware and conscious. Avoiding sexual contact with strangers and the use of intravenous drugs are practices that may lessen the risk of transmission, for example. Leading a healthy lifestyle and a responsible attitude towards one’s activities can also help.

Summary

  • HIV is a lentivirus—a virus with a relatively long incubation period—that causes weakening of the human immune system.
  • AIDS is the fourth and final stage of HIV, and may eventually lead to one’s death.
  • The immune system is made highly vulnerable to attacks of bacteria, viruses and parasites, once it has been invaded by the HIV.

Which disease is easier to prevent?
  • HIV
  • AIDS
 
 

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