What is HIV?
The first thing that has to be established is that HIV and AIDS are two different conditions. HIV stands for human immunodeficiency virus, which is a virus that attacks the body's immune system. Unlike most viruses, the body is not capable of getting rid of HIV. In fact, if left untreated, the virus will continue to progress, steadily attacking the immune system.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than 1.2 million people in the U.S. are living with the HIV virus, and nearly one in eight are completely unaware that they are infected. The overall infection rate has remained stable over recent years, at about 50,000 new infections each year.
One reason that so many people are unaware of the fact that they are infected with the HIV virus is the failure to be tested. Fortunately, there are places that offer discreet and safer STD testing, so there is no reason for anyone to be unaware of their HIV status.
Currently, no effective cure for HIV currently exists; however, through proper treatment and continual adequate medical care, the virus can be managed, allowing people to live long and productive lives. Where an HIV infection was considered a death sentence not long ago, taking the right medications, and managing all other health factors, can dramatically extend the life expectancy of HIV patients. Today, a person who has HIV and takes the meds as prescribed, while avoiding other health risks can live nearly as long as someone without the virus.
What is AIDS, and how is it different from HIV?
The acronym "AIDS" stands for acquired immunodeficiency syndrome. AIDS is recognized as the final stage of the HIV viral infection, but it should be noted that not everyone who becomes infected with HIV will advance to the AIDS stage.
AIDS should be understood as the stage in which the infected person's immune system has become badly damaged by the virus, so in effect, AIDS is a result of unmanaged HIV. What constitutes AIDS is when a person's CD4 cell count drops below 200 per cubic millimeter of blood. A normal CD4 cell count is considered to be between 500 and 1,600 cells per millimeter of blood. A person can also be diagnosed with AIDS if they develop any number of opportunistic infections, regardless of their CD4 count.
Without serious medical intervention, people who are diagnosed with HIV will typically have a lifespan of approximately three years. The problem is that far too many people are already in the advanced stages of AIDS by the time they seek medical attention.
Deaths Associated with HIV and AIDS
While the rate of death associated with HIV and AIDS has decreased, due to advances in the medical field, the numbers are still significant. In 2013, nearly 14,000 people died from complications associated with the condition, and a total of 658,507 have died in the U.S. overall. When death is attributed to AIDS, it is not the virus that causes the death, but usually some other infection that was made possible by the corrupted immune systems. Some of the most common causes of death for AIDS patients include pneumonia, certain cancers, and even bacterial infections.
Risk by Group
At one point, HIV was considered to be a disease that was exclusive to Gay and bisexual men, but it is now understood that it is the type of sex practiced that increases the risk of contracting the virus. Gay and bisexual men are still considered to be at the highest risk to be infected. With this group comprising only four percent of the total population, they account for 78 percent of new HIV infections among males and 63 percent of all new infections.
Intravenous drug users also continue to be infected at a significantly higher rate. As far as ethnic groups, blacks continue to be effected at a greater rate than other ethnic groups. While making up only 12 percent of the population, blacks make up 44 percent of new infections.
While HIV and AIDS continues to be a health concern, the good news is that it can be treated, and contracting the disease can be avoided through acceptable safe sex practices. There has to be an increase in the effort to educate certain sectors of the public in order to experience further decline I occurrence.
Samantha Martin works as a HIV/AIDS care nurse. She is still shocked at how little the general public knows, and the general misconceptions that surround HIV and AIDS and hopes that her articles will raise awareness, answer questions and give hope and support to those in need.
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