10 Facts About HIV
HIV, or human immunodeficiency virus, is a virus with a long incubation period that varies from person to person. Most people with HIV will in fact develop AIDS, acquired immunodeficiency syndrome, a virus that attacks the immune system and slowly reduces its ability to fight off any infections. There are many unknown facts and rumors about the HIV virus.
- Three ways to get HIV: HIV can be transmitted three ways, through unprotected sex where body fluids are exchanged, through an open-wound contact with infected blood, or from mother to child in-utero, childbirth, or from breast-feeding.
- Aggressive: Although HIV does in fact have a long incubation period, this virus begins attacking the immune system immediately, taking down the white blood cells that keep the body safe from attack. They also begin to infect cells by inserting their own DNA into cells, that multiply and produce more infected cells.
- Pandemic: The numbers of people infected with HIV increases every day. The World Health Organization lists 0.6% of the global population is infected with HIV. To translate this fact: out of every 1000 people, at least 6 are infected.
- Four Stages: HIV has four stages. The first stage is the incubation period, and it can last anywhere from about a few days to a few weeks. During this phase, HIV has no noticeable effects. The second stage is when the virus causes an acute infection, and it may produce effects like fevers, sore throat, swollen lymph nodes, rash, weakness in the muscles and sores in the mouth and esophagus. The third stage is the latency period, is when few or no symptoms show up because the immune system rallies an attack against the virus. This stage can last anywhere from a few weeks to a few years with the help of antiretroviral medications. The fourth stage, or final stage, is full-blown AIDS, which can also be fought with antiretrovirals.
- Not the same: HIV can lead to AIDS, but they are not the same thing. HIV is the virus during its "dormant" phase, and AIDS is the last stage of the HIV virus.
- More than one: There are two types of HIV virus, the first, HIV-1 is more infective, while HIV-2 has low-infectivity. HIV-1 is generally the type responsible for global infection. In each strain of HIV virus there are multiple variations, or strains of the infection.
- Not the killer: More often than not, HIV is not the cause of death in its victim; in fact, the HIV virus weakens the immune system to a point where an opportunistic virus (like the cold) attacks the body and causes death.
- Small and Deadly: The HIV is about 60 times smaller than a red blood cell. It is large for a virus, but has a unique structure that gives it an advantage over other retroviruses, making it almost impossible to kill, especially because of how quickly it attaches to a host cell.
- Mutant superviruses: Another fact about the HIV--because of its incredibly fast replication system and unique structure, the HIV virus mutates rapidly, which makes it easier for the virus to become immune to antiretrovirals.
- Largest infected group: The sub-Sahara are of Africa has the largest population of people currently living with HIV. There are an estimated 21.6 to 27.4 million people currently living with HIV and out of them, about 2 to 3 million are children younger than 15 years of age.