What is AIDS ?

December 7, 2006

AIDS is a chronic, life-threatening condition caused by the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV). By damaging or destroying the cells of your immune system, HIV interferes with your body’s ability to effectively fight off viruses, bacteria and fungi that cause various disease. This makes you more susceptible to certain types of cancers and to opportunistic infections your body would normally resist, such as pneumonia and meningitis. The virus and the infection itself are known as HIV. The term Acquired Immuno-Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS) is used to mean the later stages of an HIV infection.

June 5, 1981, (Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report) MMWR published a report of
five cases of Pneumocystis carinii pneumonia (PCP) among previously healthy
young men in Los Angeles . All of the men were described as “homosexuals”; two
had died. Local clinicians and the Epidemic Intelligence Service (EIS) Officer
stationed at the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health, prepared the
report and submitted it for MMWR publication in early May 1981. Before publication, MMWR editorial staff sent the submission to CDC experts in parasitic and sexually transmitted diseases. The editorial note that accompanied the published report stated that the case histories suggested a “cellular-immune dysfunction related to a common exposure” and a
“disease acquired through sexual contact.” The report prompted additional case reports from New York City, San Francisco, and other cities. At about the same time, CDC’s investigation drug unit, the sole distributor of pentamidine, the therapy for PCP, began to receive requests for the drug from physicians also to treat young men. In June 1981, CDC developed an investigative team to identify risk factors and to develop a case definition for national surveillance. Within 18 months, epidemiologists conducted studies and prepared MMWR reports that identified all of the major risks factors for acquired immnodeficiency syndrome
(AIDS). In March 1983, CDC issued recommendations for prevention of sexual,
drug-related, and occupational transmission based on these early epidemiologic
studies and before the cause of the new, unexplained illness was known.

In the 25 years since the first reports of the disease, AIDS has become a global
epidemic. Worldwide, an estimated 38.6 million people are living with HIV,
nearly half of them women and girls between the ages of 15 and 24. And though
the spread of the virus has slowed in some countries, it has escalated or
remained steady in others. In 2005, more than 4 million people were newly
infected with HIV; 25 million have died of AIDS since the epidemic began.

Despite improved treatments and better access to care for people in the
hardest-hit parts of the world, most experts agree that the pandemic is still in
the early stages. With a vaccine probably decades away, the best hope for
stemming the spread of HIV now lies in prevention through education.


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