Many years ago, a diagnosis of HIV/AIDS was a death sentence. Not now. People who are diagnosed with this disease can live full lives, if they can afford the medications.
Prior to the protease inhibitors, almost everyone died, including my partner, Rob Cervi. Only a few months before his passing, the protease inhibitors were approved, too late for him and for many of my close friends.
What is AIDS? Lots of people don’t know. Human immunodeficiency virus infection/acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (HIV/AIDS) is a disease of the human immune system. During the initial infection a person may experience a brief period of influenza-like illness. This is typically followed by a prolonged period without symptoms. As the illness progresses it interferes more and more with the immune system, making people much more likely to get infections, including opportunistic infections, and tumors that do not usually affect people with working immune systems.
HIV is transmitted primarily via unprotected sexual intercourse (including anal and even oral sex), contaminated blood transfusions and hypodermic needles and from mother to child during pregnancy, delivery, or breastfeeding. Some bodily fluids, such as saliva and tears, do not transmit HIV. Prevention of HIV infection, primarily through safe sex and needle-exchange programs, is a key strategy to control the spread of the disease. There is no cure or vaccine; however, antiretroviral treatment can slow the course of the disease and may lead to a near-normal life expectancy.
While antiretroviral treatment reduces the risk of death and complications from the disease, these medications are expensive and may be associated with side effects.
Genetic research indicates that HIV originated in west-central Africa during the early 20th century. AIDS was first recognized by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in 1981 and its cause — HIV infection — was identified in the early part of the decade. Since its discovery, AIDS has caused nearly 30 million deaths (as of 2009). As of 2010, approximately 34 million people have contracted HIV globally. AIDS is considered a pandemic — a disease outbreak present over a large area and actively spreading.
HIV/AIDS has had a great impact on society, both as an illness and as a source of discrimination. The disease also has significant economic impacts. There are many misconceptions about HIV/AIDS, such as the belief that it can be transmitted by casual non-sexual contact. The disease has also become subject to many controversies involving organized religion.
During 2010, some 2.7 million people became infected with HIV, including an estimated 390,000 children. Most of these children are babies born to women with HIV. Drugs are available to minimize the dangers of mother-to-child HIV transmission, but these are still often not reaching the places where they are most needed.
The year also saw 1.8 million deaths from AIDS-related causes. The number of deaths peaked at about 2005, and because of the expansion of antiretroviral therapy, it is estimated that 2.5 million AIDS-related deaths have been prevented since 1995 in low- and middle- income countries. By the end of 2009, the epidemic had left behind 16.6 million AIDS orphans, defined as those aged under 18 who have lost one or both parents to AIDS.
About half of people who acquire HIV become infected before they turn 25, and AIDS is the second most common cause of death among 20- to 24-year-olds.
Each year, about 50,000 people get infected with HIV in the United States. Getting an HIV test is the first step to finding out if you have HIV and getting medical care. Without medical care, HIV leads to AIDS (acquired immunodeficiency syndrome) and early death.
Excellent Article by Bruce Severino (The Charleston Gazette)