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What is AIDS?

AIDS (acquired immune deficiency syndrome) is caused by the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), which kills or impairs cells of the immune system and progressively destroys the body’s ability to fight infections and certain cancers. HIV is most commonly spread by sexual contact with an infected partner.

The term AIDS applies to the most advanced stages of an HIV infection. Official criteria for the definition of AIDS are developed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), which is responsible for tracking the spread of AIDS in the United States. The 1993 CDC definition of AIDS includes all HIV-infected people who have fewer than 200 CD4+ T cells. (Healthy adults usually have CD4+ T-cell counts of 800 or more.) In addition, the definition includes 26 clinical conditions that affect people with advanced HIV disease.

According to the CDC, at the end of 2006, an estimated 1.1 million adults and adolescents were living with HIV/AIDS in the United States. An estimated 2.7 million new HIV infections occurred worldwide during 2007, which equates to about five new infections every minute. This indicates that the AIDS epidemic still rages out of control. At the end of 2007, there are 33 million people living with AIDS globally.

How is HIV/AIDS transmitted?

Sexual Contact
HIV is spread most commonly by sexual contact with an infected partner. The virus enters the body through the lining of the vagina, vulva, penis, rectum, or mouth during sexual activity.

Blood Contamination
HIV may also be spread through contact with infected blood. However, due to the screening of blood for evidence of HIV infection, the risk of acquiring HIV from blood transfusions is extremely low.

HIV is frequently spread by sharing needles, syringes, or drug use equipment with someone who is infected with the virus. Transmission from patient to healthcare worker, or vice-versa through accidental sticks with contaminated needles or other medical instruments, is rare.

HIV also can be spread to babies born to, or breast fed by, mothers infected with the virus.

HIV/AIDS cannot be spread through:

  • saliva
  • sweat
  • tears
  • casual contact such as sharing food utensils, towels, and bedding
  • swimming pools
  • telephones
  • toilet seats
  • biting insects (such as mosquitoes)



Treatment for HIV/AIDS:

As with many other conditions, early detection offers more options for treatment. Today, there are medical treatments that can slow down the rate at which HIV weakens the immune system, but currently there is no cure for the disease. However, there are other treatments that can prevent or cure the conditions associated with AIDS. Consult your physician for more information regarding various drug therapies for the treatment of HIV/AIDS.