Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome (AIDS)
Mary D. Nettleman, MD, MS, MACP
Mary D. Nettleman, MD, MS, MACP is the Chair of the Department of Medicine at Michigan State University. She is a graduate of Vanderbilt Medical School, and completed her residency in Internal Medicine and a fellowship in Infectious Diseases at Indiana University.
Eric S. Daar, MD
Dr. Daar received his undergraduate degree from UCLA and medical degree from Georgetown University School of Medicine. He completed an internship and residency in internal medicine at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center and his clinical and research fellowship in infectious diseases at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center and UCLA.
- Acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS) facts
- What does AIDS stand for? What causes AIDS?
- What is the history of AIDS?
- What are symptoms and signs of AIDS?
- What are risk factors for developing AIDS?
- How is AIDS diagnosed?
- AIDS vs. HIV
- What is the treatment for HIV/AIDS?
- What is the treatment for HIV during pregnancy?
- What is the treatment for non-HIV-infected people who are exposed to the genital secretions or blood of someone with HIV?
- What are the complications of HIV?
- What is the prognosis for HIV infection?
- Can HIV infection be prevented?
- Is there a vaccine for HIV?
- What research is being done to find a cure for HIV?
- Where can a person find information about clinical trials for HIV and AIDS?
- HIV-AIDS Rxlist FAQs
- Find a local Infectious Disease Specialist in your town
Acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS) facts
- AIDS stands for "acquired immunodeficiency syndrome."
- AIDS is an advanced stage of infection with the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV). HIV usually is spread from person to person through contact with infected sexual secretions or blood.
- People with AIDS have weakened immune systems that make them vulnerable to selected conditions and infections.
- For people infected with HIV, the risk of progression to AIDS increases with the number of years the person has been infected. The risk of progression to AIDS is decreased by using highly effective antiretroviral therapy (ART) regimens.
- In people with AIDS, ART improves the immune system and substantially increases life expectancy. Many patients who are treated with ART have near-normal life expectancies.
- ART is a treatment that must be continued for life. It is not a cure.
- It is possible for HIV to become resistant to some antiretroviral medications. The best way to prevent resistance is for the patient to take their ART as directed. If the patient wants to stop a drug because of side effects, he or she should call the physician immediately.
- If a person is exposed to blood or potentially infectious fluids from a source patient with HIV, the exposed person can take medications to reduce the risk of getting HIV.
- Research is under way to find a vaccine and cure for HIV.
What does AIDS stand for? What causes AIDS?
AIDS is an acronym for acquired immunodeficiency syndrome." AIDS is caused by the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) and represents the most advanced stage of HIV infection.
How HIV affects the immune system
HIV is spread through contact with infected blood or fluids such as sexual secretions. Over time, the virus attacks the immune system, focusing on special cells called "CD4 cells" which are important in protecting the body from infections and cancers, and the number of these cells starts to fall. Eventually, the CD4 cells fall to a critical level and/or the immune system is weakened so much that it can no longer fight off certain types of infections and cancers. This advanced stage of HIV infection is called AIDS.
HIV is a very small virus that contains ribonucleic acid (RNA) as its genetic material. When HIV infects animal cells, it uses a special enzyme, reverse transcriptase, to turn (transcribe) its RNA into DNA. (Viruses that use reverse transcriptase are sometimes referred to as "retroviruses.") When HIV reproduces, it is prone to making small genetic mistakes or mutations, resulting in viruses that vary slightly from each other. This ability to create minor variations allows HIV to evade the body's immunologic defenses, essentially leading to lifelong infection, and has made it difficult to make an effective vaccine. The mutations also allow HIV to become resistant to antiretroviral medications.
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