AIDS is a syndrome first identified in Los Angeles in 1981 and a description of the causative virus, the human immunodeficiency virus, was made in 1983. The virus destroys a subgroup of lymphocytes, the CD4 lymphocytes, resulting in suppression of the body’s immune response.
- AIDS is essentially a sexually transmitted disease, either homosexually or heterosexually.
- May also be spread via infected blood or blood products. Current processing of blood for blood transfusions has reduced the risk of this mode of transmission.
- The virus may also be transmitted from an infected mother to her baby in the uterus, during the birth or via breast milk during lactation
Symptoms and Signs
A broad spectrum of symptoms may occur after infection with HIV.
- AIDS is defined by the development of opportunistic infections and/or certain secondary cancers known to be associated with HIV infection such, as Karposi’s Sarcoma and non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.
- In a small number of individuals, immediately after infection and for a prolonged period, there may be an antibody negative asymptomatic carrier state. During this time the virus may be truly latent or reproducing so slowly that it is not recognized by the immure system.
- Within 2-4 weeks of infections a small number of individuals may experience a primary HIV infection. When these symptoms subside, the individual may become an antibody positive asymptomatic carrier.
- The AIDS-related complex (ARC) is a combination of symptoms and signs experienced by HIV infected persons who have not had the opportunistic infections and tumors that define AIDS. These symptoms include, among others, weight loss, intermittent fever, malaise, fatigue, chronic diarrhoea, anemia and oral thrush (candidiasis). A severe manifestation of ARC is the wasting syndrome (in Africa it’s known as the “slim disease”) where the progressive weight loss is >15% of body weight.
- Many individuals may first become ill with life threatening opportunistic infections or cancer without the preceding symptoms of ARC