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December 1st is celebrated as World AIDS Day to spread awareness to people about the disease AIDS and how people can help prevent it, how we can reduce the stigma attached to it through disseminating information.I thought I would take this opportunity to explain to my readers what exactly AIDS is and what HIV is and what people should know about this malady.

HIV is a virus – Human Immuno Deficiency Virus – that reduces the strength of the immune system, the defense mechanism of our body to fight diseases. An analogy would be how a nation is exposed to enemy attack if its defenders, the army, become weak.

AIDS is Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome. The HIV starts attacking the body’s immune system cells. You have all heard of white blood cells in our body that are the fighter cells against diseases. One type of such fighter cells are CD 4 T-cells. Normal CD4 counts in adults range from 500 to 1,500 cells per cubic millimeter of blood. As HIV virus start killing these CD 4 Cells, their number starts reducing in the body making our body vulnerable to catching infections very easily. Once this count decreases to a level of about 200 cells or less, the person is said to be suffering from AIDS.

It may take years before a HIV infected person becomes an AIDS patient. It sometimes takes 10 to 15 years for the disease to manifest fully. Till such time, the person may not even be aware of the infection. The virus resides and spreads through body fluids like blood, seminal fluid in men and vaginal secretions in women.

The HIV virus spreads through sexual contact between two persons, one of them being infected. outwardly the infected person may look as normal as anybody else. we would not know their background or sexual habits. Hence it is extremely dangerous to have sex with an unknown person or to have one night stands or to have multiple sexual partners. Since social stigma is heavy upon this issue, many a times, the infected persons would hide the fact from their partners and stealthily spread the disease. HIV can spread through infected blood transfusion or sharing of injectable needles among drug abusers or it can transfer to a new born child from an infected pregnant mother, either before delivery or during delivery or through breast feeding.

Other than the above modes, HIV does not spread through body contact like shaking the person’s hand or by hugging or by sharing bed clothing’s or even utensils in the kitchen. It also does not spread through mosquito bites or any other insect bites.

There are medicines that can control the progress of the infection, i.e., further spreading of HIV to other Cells. There are many people who are infected with HIV, but are on medication and who are leading a normal life. But they need to take extreme care of health and hygiene not to subject themselves to any kind of infections. We have even heard of cases of two HIV infected persons marrying each other and continuing the medication very strictly, thus improving the quality of their life. A person on medication needs to regularly undergo blood testing wherein a CD 4 cell count is done to monitor its number and also a load testing of the Virus in blood. The medicines are to be taken life long. The available treatment now is the Anti Retroviral Therapy or ART. The medicines are very costly and they are being distributed to the persons infected at a subsidized rate by our government.

Once the immune system becomes weak, there are many opportunistic diseases like, TB, Meningitis that affects the brain, Pneumonia that affects the lungs and oral candidiasis that attack the person’s body and that can lead to various complications in other organs too and thus an AIDS patient meets his death. As of now, there are no medicines that can cure AIDS.

You can browse the Net for further detailed information on HIV and AIDS. Please spread this awareness and help prevent AIDS.

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