What is HIV?

HIV is Human Immunodeficiency Virus. Viruses usually infect the cells of a living organism and make more copies of itself. Usually a person’s immune system will find and kill the virus as quick as possible. The difference with HIV, however, is that it attacks the immune system itself. It infects the cells of the immune system and destroys or impairs their function. Infection then occurs as the immune system slowly gets attacked by the virus, breaking down the body’s ability to fend off infections and diseases.

Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS) refers to the most advanced stages of HIV infection. It is defined by the occurrence of any more than 20 opportunistic infections or related cancers, hence the use of the word ‘syndrome’, as it is not a single disease.

HIV can be transmitted through a number of ways:

  • unprotected sexual intercourse (vaginal or anal) or oral sex
  • transfusions of contaminated blood
  • sharing contaminated needles, syringes or other sharp instruments
  • Mother-to-child transmission either during pregnancy, childbirth or breastfeeding

It can take anything from 10-15 years, or longer, from initial HIV infection to the development of full blown AIDS. Antiretroviral therapy(ART) can help to slow down this transition by decreasing the viral load of an infected person.