Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome, or AIDS, is a very recognizable disease in the United States and all other parts of the globe. Being one of the most deadliest diseases to man, AIDS is feared because it brings certain death and currently, there is no cure. Unlike other diseases such as Tuberculosis and Malaria, AIDS is actually not the causal factor of death. Instead, other viruses infect the bodies cells and leads to death, but only after AIDS has totally incapacitated the immune system. The majority of AIDS patients die from pneumonia, while some suffer various other infections of cancers and tumors (Aol, AIDS).
The disease AIDS, is caused by a retrovirus known as HIV, or Human Immunodeficiency Virus. A virus is a parasite which that is benign until it combines with the cells of other organisms (Aol,Virus). This parasite consists of two molecules of viral RNA genetic material, surrounded by a protein coat (capsid). A special enzyme called reverse transcriptase is embedded within HIV, which enables it to make a DNA copy of the viral RNA genetic material, thus incorporating the genes of HIV into its host (see diagram). As HIV reproduces itself, it begins to destroy important cells within the immune system of the body. The bodies immune system is its sole protection from illness, and once destroyed, common sicknesses such as the chickenpox and having a cold become lethal (Aol,Virus).
The process in which HIV targets the immune system is a very simple step. The immune system rests on the shoulders of T4 cells, a critical component of lymphocytes. The receptor molecule of these cells is a molecule called CD4, and this molecule is the reason HIV may infect a T4 cell. HIV contains a coreceptor called CD26, which enables it to bind with CD4, and gain entrance through a T4 cells membrane (Aol,Virus). The cell is then destroyed as HIV engulfs it.
Though the virus HIV is the premature stage of the disease AIDS, both remain very similar and are transmitted in the same way. HIV/AIDS, has been rumored to be transmitted through physical contact, the air, and even through kissing, all of which proved to be false. Scientists now urge that after extensive testing, there is strong evidence to support the theory that AIDS is only transmitted in three different ways: 1.) sexual intercourse, whether vaginal or anal, with an infected person; 2.) exposure to infected blood or blood products; 3.) and from an infected mother to her infant during birth. At least 97 percent of all U.S. AIDS cases have been transmitted through one of these routes, and though researchers have extracted HIV from a number of body fluids, including: blood, semen, saliva, tears, urine, breast milk, and vaginal secretions, there is no evidence that these “hot” fluids may infect another person through physical contact (Aol, AIDS p.3).
As HIV infects the host, it may remain undisturbed for a lengthy period of time. This is the reason why it one of the world’s leading killers, because there are no noticeable symptoms of infection to the human eye, and it does not kill its host very quickly. Therefore, deaths from AIDS go on unnoticed. In 1997 alone, there were 2.3 million deaths worldwide as a result of AIDS, up from 1996’s death toll of 1.5 M. In the state of Virginia, there are over 10,000 infected persons, many of which are unaware of it (Aol, AIDS chart). The only symptoms of the disease are internal, and they require tests. A test accounting for the number of T4 cells in the body has proven to be an effective method in targeting HIV/AIDS victims, along with other similar tests that give very high percentages of accurate results, such as the Hepatitis B test. Many people who feel that they may have contracted the virus choose not to be tested in fear that they may have it. This only leads to more amplification of the virus over the world as unsuspecting hosts transfer it other victims.
Currently, there are no cures or vaccines for AIDS, however scientists have created ways to prolong the life-span of infected individuals through the use of many drugs. Drugs such as AZT (azidothymidine), ddI (dideozyinosine), ddC (dideoxycytidine), d4T (dideoxydidehydrothymidine), 3TC (lamivudine) have been proven to interfere with the replication process of the virus, but do not seem to have an affect in the cells of full blown AIDS. Just recently however, there have been indications of a possible treatment method that can suppress the AIDS virus in newly exposed victims. The combination of Hydroxea, ddI, and Indinavir, seem to be highly effective in ceasing the replication process and enhancing the immune system. Though it is not one hundred percent, there have been cases in which these drugs proved effective in fighting AIDS antibodies.
As for now, the best cure we have for AIDS is education and risk reduction. Because AIDS can only be spread in a few ways, the most logical answer is to disengange from any behaviors that might put ourselves at risk for catching AIDS. Through educating our communities and our young people of the hidden dangers and consequences of catching this virus, we may be able to slow the toll of deaths and bring this virus to an end,… for now.