Like the majority of the American population I have lived in a cloud of ignorance about the HIV and AIDS crisis. I have never know anyone close to me that has been infected with either of the two viruses. So when the option to research something to do with sexuality arouse I felt this would definitely further my education about a lethal killer that is roaming this earth. Since I knew next to nothing about this topic I will start from the begging of the disease and discuss where it’s at now.
The HIV and AIDS disease has been around for awhile although no one has been able to pin point it’s origin. There are many theories floating around the medical world but the most predominant theory “is that the virus first attacked humans in Central Africa up to 100 years ago.”(Kelly 524). It is said that the virus stayed mainly in this closed society until many years later. Many say the disease spread when international travel began to increase. The HIV and AIDS viruses were believed to arrive in the United States sometime during the nineteen seventies. It was a common disease between gay males and intravenous drug abusers. Now it is well known that the viruses have been transmitted through sexually, occasionally through blood and organ transplants.
The acronym HIV stands for Human Immunodeficiency Virus, where as the acronym AIDS stands for Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome. When someone has contracted the HIV virus in almost all cases it produces the AIDS virus. Apparently there has been a controversy that HIV really isn’t the cause of the AIDS virus, but careful research has proved without a doubt that it is the cause. Socially the production of the viruses has caused a lot of hate, prejudice, racism and above all homophobia.
Many people only talk about the late stages of AIDS but HIV does not always produce the AIDS virus. If the HIV virus is caught in the early stages it is possible to get treatment and delay the effects of the AIDS virus. When an individual contracts HIV they can expect a fever, swollen glands, and sometimes a rash. As the bodies system tends toward these symptoms the HIV virus may still be undetectable. This first stage is called primary HIV disease then moves onto chronic asymptomatic disease. With this stage comes a decline in the immune cells and often swollen lymph nodes. As time moves on the depletion of immune cells increases leaving the body open to opportunistic infection. This is where normal sickness, disease, and other things in the environment are now able to attack the bodies system. This stage is called the chronic symptomatic disease. A very noticeable symptom is a thrush, which “is a yeast infection of the mouth…”(Kelly 532). Also at this stage there can be infections of the skin and also feelings of fatigue, weight loss, diarrhea, etc.
The actual period of the HIV virus really varies from person to person. Normally with in a year or two the serve stages of HIV set in. At this point in the victims life it is said they have progressed into the Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome(AIDS). This status is established when one or more of diseases have accumulated in the effected victims system. Many victims often have lesions appear on their skin or they begin to acquire a pneumocystic pneumonia. The final stage of the virus attacks the nervous system, “damaging the brain and the spinal cord.”(Kelly 532). This can lead to a number of problems in the body: blindness, depression, loss of body control, loss of memory. This can often last for months before the victim finally passes away.
Once the HIV virus enters the body it infects the “T” cell the protectors of the immune system. Once they have attached to the T cell the HIV molecule sheds it’s outer coating and then releases the Viral RNA material into the T cell. RNA and DNA are basically genetic blueprints for the body. When the Viral RNA enters the T cell it begins transforming into the more complex Viral DNA. This occurs because the virus brings along an enzyme with it that causes the change. Modern medicine uses the drug AZT to put the transformation on hold. After the Viral RNA changes to Viral DNA it then penetrates the nucleus of the T cell. It connects with the cell DNA and awaits the opportunity to produce more Viral RNA. When the victim comes under stress or infection the cells break and become Viral proteins and begin making more Viral RNA. They are then re-coated so they can regain entry into other T cells, mass producing the virus throughout the immune system.
The HIV virus is of the retrovirus type, this is a class of viruses that reproduces with the aids of an enzyme that it carries with it. This allows the virus to transform the genetic RNA into DNA in the host cell. Basically when the virus attacks a cell it tells it’s self, to transform from the RNA to the DNA form and then mass produce the Viral RNA. Unfortunately for modern chemists and biologists the HIV strand is so complex with so many genetic codes it is almost impossible to break down. The thing that makes the HIV virus so lethal is that it attacks directly into the primary defense cells of the immune system leaving it open for attack.
No one knows exactly how HIV destroys CD4 cells, they are white blood cells that play an integral part in the bodies immune system. One possibility is that they directly kill the cell either by causing them to clump together or by disintegrating them. A more recent theory is that HIV instills a genetic program inside the CD4 cell that causes the premature death of thousands of these cells. All cells in the body have a program to die, this helps keep renewing the body with fresh cells. That process is called apoptosis, and it’s believed that HIV increases the rate of this process without the renewal. HIV is very good at cloaking it’s self in the body. This way the virus can move through the body almost undetected killing cells along the way. It also makes it’s way to the neuroglial cells in the brain and spine. This is the main problem defending against HIV, it’s is so quick and sneaky that the body can’t find it.
The HIV and AIDS viruses are technically more complex than what I explained. Now that I talked about what it does to the body I it’s very important to understand how it is transmitted from person to person. It has been documented that the HIV virus is transmitted by the direct transfer of bodily fluids. Those fluids could be either blood or sexually transmitted fluid. Since the virus can stay undetected in a carriers body it is often transmitted to others without knowledge. Those infected with the HIV virus and have acquired AIDS are more likely to transmit the disease compared to those without AIDS. This does not mean that the virus will not be transmitted at all.
The virus normally enters the body through “internal linings of organs(such as the vagina, rectum, urethra within the penis, or mouth)or through openings in the skin, such as tiny cuts or open sores.”(Kelly 534). It has also been proven that the virus can be transmitted from a mother to a baby via breast milk. It has also been shown that HIV can be found in urine, tears, saliva, and feces but no evidence of transmission through these fluids. There is hard evidence stating that HIV has been transmitted by the following; sexual intercourse, either anal or vaginal. Contact with vaginal fluid and semen, transplanted organs or blood from an infected person. The contact with infected blood, the sharing syringes by drug users, tattoo needles that are not sterilized, etc.
There is still no really strong evidence that HIV has been transmitted through oral sex. Although there has been documented cases in which it has been transmitted from a male’s semen through oral sex. There is far less evidence of male’s or female’s contracting the virus through oral sex performed on a female. It has been said that the virus can not be transmitted trough kissing but experts can not rule out this possibility. Some have said that prolonged “French” kissing, open mouth with the switching of saliva, could possibly transmit the virus. There has been no evidence that casual contact has or ever will transmit the disease. This is were many social problems come into effect. Many be tend to isolate people that they know have contracted the virus because they are ignorant to how the disease is transmitted.
“About 5 percent of individuals infected with HIV have remained asymptomatic even without any antiviral treatment.”(Kelly535). It’s not known what causes this very rare occurrence but many doctors are still researching why it happens. Can the body reject the HIV and AIDS virus, unfortunately until now the answer remains no for most. The virus defeats the immune system leaving the vulnerable to other diseases. Those victims that already have a more defeated immune system and then contract HIV will be more likely to acquire AIDS at a much faster rate than normal. Although someone is infected with HIV this does not necessarily mean they are sentenced to die. Few people that have been diagnosed seemed to have rid themselves of the deadly virus. Most people tend to make a drastic change in their lifestyle. A change in eating habits, vitamins, exercises, and work habits. Some of these victims often live for many years after they are diagnosed.
Testing for the HIV and AIDS virus is a process that has become a regular occurrence in most people’s lives. When the virus enters the body it reacts by producing antibodies. Unfortunately these antibody’s can go undetected for sometime leaving people with the false hope that they are HIV negative. In most people it has been estimated that these antibody’s appear with in six months or longer. This is why the medical profession suggests regular HIV testing on a six month interval.
There are two tests mainly used to detect the HIV and AIDS virus. The ELISA and the Western blot. ELISA stands for, Enzyme-Linked Immunosorbent Assay, it is an inexpensive test but often gives false positive diagnoses. When a positive result returns it’s often followed by the Western blot. This is a much more expensive and lengthy test that has to be interpreted by trained professionals. The major problem with HIV testing is that it often develops very slowly in the human body, staying virtually undetected for a long time. This is why so many people can be not carrying the disease without even knowing it.
There are three possible outcome with the testing technology that is available now. First, positive conformation that HIV antibodies are present through out the body. Second, positive conformation that the HIV antibodies are not present through out the body. Third, the uncertain result that HIV antibodies are present in the body.
Filed Under: Aids, Medicine, Science & Technology, Social Issues
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HIV and AIDS are one of the leading causes of death among 24 to 45 year olds and yet so many Americans seem to know nothing about it. So many people in the world believe HIV and AIDS are the same thing, but they are sadly mistaken. HIV is a virus. The letters stand for Human Immunodefiency Virus. HIV is a virus that attacks your immune system. What it attacks are important immune-system cells called T-cells.
HIV is a retrovirus, which means it is slow moving. By attacking and killing the immune systems T-cells, HIV can cause AIDS. Although, HIV may move more rapidly in some people, on the average it takes ten years for HIV to cause AIDS, even with out treatment. (HIV Positive) AIDS stands for Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome. One does not have AIDS until their T-cell count drops below two hundred cells per cubic millimeter of blood, or if one begins to suffer from opportunistic infections. These include Pneumocystic Carnii Pneumonia (PCP), Kaposis sarcoma (a kind of skin cancer), Cytomegalovirus (CMV), and Candida (a fungal infection that can be found in the throat, mouth or vagina).
So, just because a person is diagnosed HIV positive that does not mean they have AIDS, it just means the virus is in their body. AIDS does not come until the virus has beaten the T-cells. Therefore, the whole purpose of HIV treatment is to protect T-cells, and keep the HIV from turning into AIDS. There has been a broad spectrum of theories associated with the origin of HIV.
HIV has been blamed on everything from The White Man, to the polio vaccine, to the CIA. (HIV Positive) The truth is HIV has been spread to humans from monkeys. The same virus as HIV found in monkeys is called SIV, for Simian Immunodeficiency Virus. HIV- 1 the type found most common in Central and Southern Africa, the United States the rest of the world seems to have come from chimpanzees. HIV- 2, the type found in West Africa, seems to have come from the sooty manga bey monkey. Researchers believe the first infections occurred in the 1930 s. This was long before the polio vaccine, and long before anyone, including The White Man and the CIA knew much of anything about viruses. (HIV Positive) Some may wonder how a monkeys disease could affect humans.
The answer is simple; monkeys in Africa are commonly hunted for meat. If a hunter cuts his hand with his knife as he was butchering an infected monkey transmission would be almost certain. Even though the disease goes as far back as the 1930 s, the first occurrence of AIDS in America came a little more than twenty years ago on June 5, 1981. It came in a report from the Center for Disease Control, which said, A rare parasitic lung disease had been reported in Los Angeles, among five young men all active homosexuals. (HIV Positive) Since many of the first victims of the disease were gay men the first name given to the disease was GRID, Gay Related Immune Disorder. However, now it is clear that HIV is not a gay disease, it is spread just as easily by straight sex as it is by gay sex.
Although many people have been infected with HIV, its transmission is not as easy as one may think. Someone who is HIV positive does not have to worry about giving the disease to his or her family from coughing, sneezing, or by swimming in a pool with them. It is not even spread by a handshake, hug or even a kiss. Many people say HIV is transmitted by shared bodily fluids, yet there have been no known cases of HIV being spread by sweat, saliva or tears. However, there are bodily fluids that can spread HIV. These include, blood, vaginal fluid, semen and breast milk.
There are also a few different ways in which these fluids may transmit the virus. The first, most primary way of transmission is through anal and vaginal sex. One can also get HIV through oral sex, although it is much less common. Another common transmission is through drug use.
Sharing drug equipment can spread HIV. If someone who is infected uses drug equipment to inject drugs, and they get blood on the equipment the next person to use the equipment has a high chance of becoming infected. The final transmission is from mother to child. Without treatment, about one in four babies born to women with HIV have HIV themselves.
Fortunately, the use of medication before, during, and after delivery can cut the risk to just one in twelve. (HIV Positive) The risk may be reduced even further if the baby is delivered by Cesarean section. After the baby is born, an HIV positive woman must not breast-feed her baby. Breast milk carries HIV and may cause HIV in a baby that was born healthy. Symptoms on HIV are often hard to detect and many people may not even know they are infected. Shortly after one may become infected, they may get flu-like symptoms such as, fever, headaches, sore muscles, stomach aches, swollen lymph glands, or a skin rash. Some people may not get any symptoms at all.
Even if one does get symptoms, after they go away you may seem to be perfectly healthy for ten years or longer, even without treatment. During that time the virus is building up in the bloodstream and progressively killing off the T-cells and wearing down the immune system. Also even if one feels fine, they can still infect other people. The only way for someone to truly know if they are HIV positive is to be tested. The test does not check for HIV itself, it tests for the antibodies the body makes to try to fight HIV. If the test finds those antibodies, one is said to be HIV positive.
It should also be noted that it can take up to six months for the antibodies to show up, so initial test results may be inaccurate. Some people believe HIV is a death sentence, where this may have been true before it is now no longer the case. In 1996 a new class of HIV medicines called Protease Inhibitors (PIs) became widely available. At the same time it was discovered that taking three HIV drugs in combination could suppress HIV to undetectable levels.
Since these new treatments were introduced in 1996, the death rate from AIDS has dropped 80 % in the United States. (HIV Positive) Unfortunately, there is no cure for HIV. There is no treatment available today that can eliminate the virus from the body. The current treatment can reduce the amount of HIV to the point where it appears undetectable, yet it is not completely gone. Even though this means once one begins HIV treatment they are on it for life, people can and are living with HIV for much longer than before.
We are very fortunate in the United States to have so much research and so many places to turn. There are health centers and organizations all over America especially for HIV and AIDS. One organization that has done amazing things for people living with HIV is the AIDS Coalition of Southern New Jersey (ACSNJ). The ACSNJ is located in Bellmawr, New Jersey just twenty minutes from Rowan University. I was very lucky to have become a part of the ACSNJ last year. I began working for the Teen AIDSline in January of last year.
I have to say it was a life and mind changing experience. When I began at ACSNJ I had little knowledge of HIV and AIDS. I knew what I had learned from high school health classes, but that was minute compared to what I was about to learn. I had to take a class called HIV 101 that basically taught me everything I have discussed throughout this paper.
One aspect that really changed my mind and touched my heart was from working with the volunteers at the Teen AIDSline. What the Teen AIDSline consists of is a group of high school students available to answer phone calls with questions from other teens, and working on different projects to get HIV information out to teens. Some of these projects are creating bulletin boards for high schools to display, speaking to schools about HIV, and writing articles for high school newspapers. What really touched me were the volunteers themselves. Most of the volunteers I had ranged from eighth grade to senior year in high school. All of which knew someone who was HIV positive.
It was their determination and passion for getting the word out that really changed me. When I was in high school my major concern was with whom I was going to go to a dance, and these teens are concerned with life changing events. Working at the ACSNJ was an amazing experience for me and opened my eyes to all of the ways HIV can and does affect my life. I know that I have changed a few minds about HIV just from coming home from the ACSNJ and reading a few statistics to a group of friends. Even if that is the least I can do I know I am changing some lives. I wish everyone could work at the ACSNJ and get to experience the reality that I got, because I know it would save a lot of lives.
A few statistics I have read to my friends are so unbelievable they did not even believe me at first. Just a few of these are: The World Health Organization and other AIDS experts estimate that 90 % of the 30 million people infected with HIV worldwide are heterosexual. Worldwide, sexual intercourse between men and women is still the most common mode of AIDS transmission. In the United States, AIDS is still among the leading cause of death for men and women ages 25 - 45. Every night in the Unites States, about 16 million couples have sex, and it is estimated that every night about 36, 000 condoms break or slip. A recent study in the United States found that only 17 % of those with multiple sexual partners used condoms.
One study showed that 40 % of HIV-infected people had not disclosed their HIV status to their sexual partner. In adult couples in which one partner was HIV-infected and the other was not, only 50 % of the couples chose to use condoms. The ACSNJ offers many other programs besides the Teen AIDSline for people affected by HIV and AIDS and for volunteers who want to help. Some of these programs include: Positively Nutritious, We-R-Family, Buddy Services, and Cooper Hospital Childcare.
Positively Nutritious is a program that supplies food to people affected by AIDS. From Monday to Friday lunch and dinner are delivered to the persons home as well as groceries and individual nutritional help are available. We-R-Family is a program designed to focus on parenting education. It deals with important family issues and outings for families. Childcare is also provided. Buddy Services is a program that gives people affected by AIDS a buddy to talk to and support them.
The buddies provide comfort, companionship based on non-judgmental acceptance. Cooper Hospital Childcare is a program that provides childcare for parents while they attend their appointments. Parents may also go shopping or make other appointments while the children are being cared for. These are just a few of the wonderful services the ACSNJ provide for those infected or affected with HIV and AIDS. The ACSNJ is always looking for more volunteers and welcomes everyone. In my opinion I feel everyone should experience the joy of volunteering at least once in their lives, I know it was an experience I will never forget.
Works Cited A Beginners Guide to HIV: The Basics. (2001, September). HIV Positive Glaxo Welcome (Producer). (1995). Understanding the Disease [videotape]. Research Triangle Park, NC: Glaxo Welcome.
Heterosexual Practices in the Era of HIV/AIDS. The State University of New Jersey, Rutgers 2001. [pamphlet]
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