HIV (Human Immunodeficiency Virus) that causes HIV infection.
AIDS (Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome) is the most advanced stage of HIV.
AIDS was first diagnosed in gay men in 1981 in the USA and since then has become a pandemic with over 38 million people infected, most of them in the Sub-Saharan region of Africa.
HIV is spread through contact with blood, semen, pre-seminal fluid, rectal fluids, vaginal fluids or breast milk of a person with HIV.
HIV attacks and destroys the “infection fighting” CD4 cells of the immune system. The loss of CD4 cells (also known as T helper cells) makes it difficult to fight infection. As the CD4 count decreases, the viral load increases. Both of these, the CD4 count and the viral load can be tested today.
Initial symptoms of HIV are like a flu illness 2-4 weeks after exposure. Untreated HIV normally advances to AIDS in about 10 years, but longer and shorter periods are documented.
The only way to know for sure if one has HIV is to get tested. There is a rapid diagnostic test which can give an answer in 20 minutes. Then it is confirmed with another test.
HIV testing should be offered to all pregnant women.
When the disease has advanced to AIDS it is difficult, as mentioned, to fight infection and certain cancers. These would not normally kill healthy adults. These are known as opportunistic infections and even with the treatment can kill people with AIDS.
Today we have H.A.A.R.T. (Highly Active Antiviral Treatment - This is a triple drug therapy). The goal is to reduce the virus in the blood, so it cannot be detected. This does not mean someone is cured, but rather they cannot infect anyone else. H.A.A.R.T. was available in the 1st world in 1996, and in the 3rd world in 2006.
The future is brighter, and it is expected that the pandemic that is AIDS will end in 2020.
We now have P.E.P. (Post exposure prophylaxis - A months treatment of H.A.A.R.T.)
And we also have P.R.E.P. (Pre exposure prophylaxis) which is offered to people who are at very high risk of HIV, but to be effective the medicine (Truvada) needs to be taken every day and is very expensive.