AIDS - Opportunistic infections, HIV

What is AIDS?

AIDS (Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome) is the name used to describe a set of symptoms and illnesses that are caused by severe HIV infection. By the time a person has AIDS the virus HIV will have seriously damaged the person's immune system. The immune system is the body's natural defence against illness.

What happens if you have AIDS?

HIV is the virus that causes AIDS

HIV is the virus that causes AIDS

If left untreated it will usually lead to the person's death within a few years. But most people do not die as a direct result of HIV infection. They will normally die from one of the opportunistic infections which develop once a person no longer has a fully functioning immune system.

What are the different types of opportunistic infection?

The four main types of opportunistic infection are:1"Treatment HIV and AIDS",

  • bacterial infections, such as pneumonia or tuberculosis;
  • fungal infections, such as oral thrush and pneumocystis pneumonia (PCP);
  • parasitic infections, such as toxoplasmosis;
  • viral infections, such as shingles (herpes zoster).

Why is there a separate name for the late symptoms of HIV infection?

When AIDS was first recognised as a disease in the USA in the 1980s its cause was unknown. There were a number of theories about its cause including nutrition and drug use. Eventually it was realised that the disease was caused by the virus HIV.

Although generally people now refer to late HIV infection, or severe or advanced HIV infection, the word AIDS is still used by some people.

Does everybody agree that HIV causes AIDS?

Since the 1980s there have been some people who have disputed the fact that HIV causes AIDS. But the scientific evidence is now overwhelming.2The Evidence That HIV Causes AIDS, NIH, Very few people now disagree with this.

Can anything cure AIDS?

There is no cure for any stage of HIV infection. If a person has HIV infection they will have it for the rest of their life. But if they take antiretroviral treatment it is now believed that a person with HIV infection can have a normal length of life.

Antiretroviral treatment is a combination of very specific drugs which have to be taken every day. If the person is ill, then the drugs will usually result in the person getting better. If the person starts taking antiretroviral treatment before they become ill, then they will usually never become ill.

How many people die from AIDS?

In 2018 770,000 people died from AIDS related, or more correctly HIV related illnesses.3Global HIV & AIDS statistics - 2019 fact sheet, UNAIDS, 2019,

Thirty two million people have died from HIV related illnesses since the start of the epidemic.

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