Editorial: Aids awareness month

December is underway which means so is AIDS awareness month. The time to educate and protect yourself is now.

It can be easy to confuse HIV and AIDS. While they are different diagnoses, they do go hand-in-hand and are often used interchangeably to describe a particular disease. HIV is a virus that can lead to a condition called AIDS.

At one time in history, a diagnosis of HIV or AIDS was considered a death sentence. Thanks to research and the development of new treatments, today, people diagnosed with HIV and AIDS are living long, productive lives.

HIV is a virus and particular exposure to it can lead to infection. HIV stands for Human Immunodeficiency Virus. The name describes the virus: it infects humans only and it attacks the immune system, rendering it deficient and unable to work as effectively as it should.

Unlike many other viruses, our immune systems are unable to attack and completely clear out HIV. No one yet understands why we cannot defeat HIV, but medications can control it very successfully.

While HIV is a virus that may cause an infection, AIDS is a condition or a syndrome. Being infected with HIV can lead to having AIDS, which stands for Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome.

AIDS develops when HIV has caused serious damage to the immune system. It is a complex condition with symptoms that vary by individual. Symptoms of AIDS are related to the infections a person develops as a result of having a damaged immune system, unable to fight infections as it would in a healthy individual. These may include tuberculosis, pneumonia, certain types of cancer, and other infections.

AIDS is the final stage of the HIV infection, and there are a few factors that determine when a patient’s diagnosis has crossed from HIV latency to AIDS.

Because HIV destroys immune cells called CD4 cells, one part of the AIDS diagnosis contains a count of those cells. When the cells have dropped to a certain level, an HIV patient is considered to have AIDS. Another factor signaling the AIDS virus is the presence of opportunistic infections. This, too, would serve as a determinant for an AIDS diagnosis.

Once HIV has developed into AIDS, life expectancy drops significantly. It is difficult to repair the damage to the immune system at this point, and infections secondary to HIV are common. These infections are what become fatal for a person with AIDS.

With today’s treatments for the HIV infection, however, someone can live with the virus for years, and even decades before AIDS develops. Even though one can lead a normal and healthy life while undergoing HIV treatment, it is important to understand that you can still pass the infection to someone else.