December marks the 25th observance of World AIDS day and a year in which through research, there have been enormous strides made toward a cure. Sadly, it is also a difficult time, as the National Institutes of Health will lose $229 million in research funding for the coming year according to a recent CNN report. This impact will be enormous. The Foundation for AIDS Research has estimated that almost 230,000 fewer people might not be able to receive treatment. Approximately 15,000 individuals in our country who need financial assistance to pay for their medications will lose support from the AIDS Drug Assistance Program. AIDS was first recognized in 1981 by the Centers for Disease Control and its cause – the HIV infection – was identified in the early part of the decade. As of 2009 AIDS had caused nearly 30 million deaths and by the following year, approximately 34 million individuals were found to be living with HIV globally.
The first documented case of a child cured of HIV was reported this past March, Followed in July by a report of two adult HIV patients who are no longer showing any signs of virus following stem-cell transplants and discontinuing anti-retroviral treatment. Yet, there is a great deal of work still ahead because of the 35 million people living with HIV/AIDS worldwide.
HIV is human immunodeficiency virus. The condition damages the body’s immune system cells. AIDS is acquired immunodeficiency syndrome. The first signs of HIV infection may be swollen glands and symptoms that resemble the flu. This is typically followed by an extended period of no symptoms. As the illness progresses, however, it interferes more and more with the immune system, causing the person to get frequent infections and tumors that do not ordinarily affect those individuals with a healthy working immune system. Severe symptoms may not appear for months or years following the initial symptoms and while the initial symptoms may be mild enough to go unrecognized, the viral load at this time is very high. Thus, HIV infection spreads more efficiently during the primary infection than it does during the stages that follows.
HIV can be spread through unprotected intimacy with an infected heterosexual or bi-sexual individual, by sharing drug needles, or through contact with the blood of a person who is infected. Women can pass HIV to their children during pregnancy or childbirth. There is no risk of acquiring HIV if a person is exposed to saliva, sweat, tears, urine, vomit, or nasal secretions unless they are contaminated with blood. Prevention through safe sex and needle exchange programs is critical if we are ever to bring this condition under control or eradicate it completely. There is no cure; however, many anti-viral medications are on the market that can slow the course of the disease, allowing people to live for many years.