AIDS (acquired immune deficiency syndrome or acquired immunodeficiency syndrome) is the last and hardest stadium of HIV (human immunodeficiency virus). HIV virus destroys the human immune system which is responsible for fighting all kinds of viruses and diseases. Simply it makes human organisms way too weak to be able to resist infections.

Before HIV becomes AIDS, the virus can live in the human body for even 15 or more years, and the infected person usually looks normal without any kind of differences, so it’s impossible to recognize infected people without a medical examination. So if someone is HIV positive it doesn’t mean he has AIDS, but when AIDS occurs death is inevitable. The sad truth about the HIV virus is that there is no vaccine or cure yet, although there are treatments that can slow the virus’s progression. That treatment consists of highly active antiretroviral therapy or HAART.

Without this therapy progression from HIV to AIDS is much faster and survival time after developing AIDS is only about 9 months. HAART can increase survival time by between 4 and 12 years. Treatments continue to be developed every day so estimates of survival time are likely to continue to change.

Since there are no particular symptoms, people infected with AIDS may have fevers, swollen glands, sweats (especially at night), chills, weakness, and weight loss. Due to reduced immune systems, those people are much more liable to diseases and infections that usually don’t develop in individuals with healthy immune systems. Most of these infections are caused by viruses, bacteria and fungi. HIV virus affects almost all organs so infected people have an increased risk of developing cancers (especially Kaposi’s sarcoma, cervical cancer and lymphomas known as cancers of the immune system).

Anyway, many people are unaware that they have HIV and they continue to spread infections. HIV can be detected by typical HIV tests that detect HIV antibodies in plasma, serum, oral fluid, dried blood spots or urine. However, time between infection and the development of antibodies that can be detected can vary and it can take between 3-6 months. This time is called the window period.

HIV virus has a shield containing proteins and fat so it’s very sensitive in touch with substances such as alcohol or any other kind of disinfectant. Viruses are very compliant in an outside environment so they can live only for a few minutes outside of the human body. It’s also very sensitive at higher temperatures. The only way to survive outside of the human body is at very low temperatures (below 70 degrees).

HIV virus originate from SIV (Simian Imunotropic Virus) and scientists believe its evolution took a period of several hundred years. HIV virus can be found in almost all types of body fluids including blood, lymph, vaginal fluid, semen, preseminal fluid and breast milk. Although it can be found in saliva, tears, and urine, it’s impossible to get an HIV infection from these fluids because they contain a very small percentage of the virus.

The most common way of HIV transmission is by sexual activity (in any form of vaginal, anal or oral penetration) with an infected person, especially if ejaculation is included because semen contains a high level of virus. During sex, only condoms (male or female types) can reduce the risk of infection. Also, the HIV virus spreads by sharing needles and syringes (usually for drug injection) or transfusions of infected blood, so medical equipment for that kind of intervention must be sterile. Babies can also be infected by their mothers (MTCT – mother-to-child transmission) during or before birth. There are methods such as antiretroviral drugs, cesarean delivery and formula feeding that can reduce the risk of transferring infection. Also, babies can get infections during breastfeeding.

There are many other ways of spreading the virus such as being stuck with infected needles that can happen to healthcare workers or after infected blood gets into an open cut somewhere on the human body. Although those cases are extremely rare, people, especially medical workers should pay particular attention while working with injured people who are infected (especially in cases of open wounds). Insects such as mosquitos or animals can not spread infection because HIV virus infects CD4 cells which are only present in human blood.

Anyway, there are also many delusions about spreading the HIV virus such as using the swimming pool, common social relations such as shaking hands, hugging, talking with an infected person, eating food that was made by the infected or being in the same room. All these mistakes usually lead to asocial and immoral behavior against infected people and can seriously hurt their feelings.

Many people and organizations all around the world are fighting against those prejudices in society. The Red ribbon is a symbol that represents solidarity with HIV-positive people. Every day about 8000 people die of aids, so it’s probably one of the worst diseases in human history.