What is HIV/AIDS?
Human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) is a type of infection that can cause acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS). HIV can remain “silent” for years after exposure to it. Left untreated, the virus can destroy disease-fighting cells known as CD4+ T cells. This in turn weakens the immune system and makes it difficult for the body to fight life-threatening infections and cancers.
While greater awareness of HIV, combined with earlier initiation of treatment, has helped to contain the spread of the virus, HIV/AIDS is still considered an epidemic. According to statistics from the World Health Organization, 1.7 million people died from AIDS worldwide in 2011 and 2.5 million became newly infected with the virus. The number of people living with HIV totaled 34 million, including 16.7 million women and 3.3 million children under the age of 15.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 19,300 people in the United States died from AIDS in 2010, the most current statistics available. The highest rates of new infection are predominantly among gay and bisexual men, followed by African Americans and Hispanics/Latinos.
What are the symptoms of HIV/AIDS?
Within a couple of weeks to a month or two after being exposed to HIV, some people will experience flu-like symptoms (fever, sore throat, diarrhea, etc.) that last for roughly 1–2 weeks. Some of these symptoms, including swelling of the lymph nodes, can persist for 8–10 years as the virus slowly begins to spread. Some people may have no specific symptoms and may feel healthy overall. If the virus isn’t treated, however, the symptoms may become chronic and be accompanied by more serious ones—weight loss, fatigue, night sweats, shortness of breath, and blurred vision, among others—as the disease progresses to AIDS, by which time the immune system has been severely compromised.