AIDS (Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome) is a potentially life-threatening, chronic condition that’s caused by HIV, the human immunodeficiency virus. By damaging the immune system, this virus interferes with the body’s ability to fight off organisms that cause disease.

This virus can be sexually transmitted, spread by encountering infected blood, or transmitted from mother to child through pregnancy, the process of childbirth, or breastfeeding. Without any sort of medication, it can take years before the immune system is weakened by HIV to the point that AIDS develops.

Symptomatic Infection

As the HIV virus multiplies and destroys immune cells, those cells in the body that assist with fighting off germs, you can develop mild infections or even chronic symptoms that can include things like HIV diarrhea, fatigue, swollen lymph nodes, fever, and more.

Progression to AIDS

Because of better antiviral treatments, many HIV patients in the US don’t end up developing AIDS. However, as mentioned above, if the virus isn’t treated, it can turn into AIDS in about a decade.

When AIDS does develop, the immune system has already been severely damaged. Patients will be more likely to develop opportunistic cancers or infections – which are things that wouldn’t normally trouble people with a healthy immune system.

Some of the symptoms and signs of these things might include things like soaking night sweats, chronic diarrhea, unexplained and persistent fatigue, skin bumps or rashes, and more.

How HIV Becomes AIDS

HIV works to destroy the CD4 T cells in the body. These are white blood cells, or leukocytes, that play a massive role in helping the body fight off disease. The fewer of these cells in the body, the weaker the immune system becomes.

It can take many years before HIV turns into AIDS. AIDS is diagnosed when the cell count for the CD4 T cells falls under 200 or when the patient has a complication that’s AIDS-defining.

How It Spreads

In order to become infected with the HIV virus, vaginal secretions, semen, or infected blood must enter the body. This can happen in a few ways:

By having sex – People can become infected if they have oral, anal, or vaginal sex with an infected partner whose vaginal secretions, semen, or blood enters their body. The virus can get into the body through either sores in or on the mouth or through small tears that occasionally develop in the vagina or rectum during sexual activity.

From blood – In some instances, the virus can be transmitted through transfusions of blood. American blood banks and hospitals now screen their supply of blood for HIV antibodies so that the risk is negligible. It can also get into the body through sharing intravenous drug paraphernalia that’s infected. Aside from putting people at risk for HIV, this also puts them at risk for other infectious diseases, like hepatitis.

Pregnancy –  Finally, infected mothers can pass this virus to their children, although HIV positive mothers who’re able to get treated for the virus early in their pregnancy can make the risk to their children significantly lower.

It’s important not to take this virus and resulting disease lightly. Knowledge is power, so learn all you can to protect yourself and your loved ones.