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HIV and AIDS

What Does AIDs Look Like?

03/21/2002

Question:

What does AIDs look like?

Answer:

AIDS, the Acquired Immuno-Deficiency Syndrome, was first recognized in the United States in 1981 when people with previously healthy immune systems began to be diagnosed with unusual infections and cancers. The types of infections had previously been found only in people with severe immune deficiencies, so the syndrome got its name `Acquired Immuno-Deficiency` because it appeared that something bad had happened to weaken their immune systems. It was (and is) called the AIDS epidemic because it was a new disease recognized in large numbers of previously well people, and it is regarded as a very serious epidemic because, without treatment, many of the people diagnosed with AIDS will die because of the infections they cannot fend off with their weakened immune systems.

As more people were diagnosed with AIDS, it became clear that an infectious agent, spread by sexual contact and blood or blood products was the most likely cause of the new syndrome. The cause of AIDS has been proven to be HIV (Human Immunodeficiency Virus), and treatments targeting HIV have been remarkably successful in preventing death from AIDS. Many HIV-infected people take medicine daily to keep their HIV infection from weakening their immune systems, in much the same way that diabetics take medicine daily to keep their blood sugar normal, and hypertensives take medicine daily to keep their blood pressure normal. The latest revision of the case definition of AIDS was published in 1993. Under this definition, any HIV-infected person with a weakened immune system (defined as having a CD4+ T lymphocyte count of less than 200) has AIDS, even if they have never had any unusual infections yet. Such a person would be strongly encouraged to take medicine to manage their HIV infection and prevent immune suppression. So it is quite possible, and more and more common, to have `AIDS` by the 1993 definition, yet get started on treatment before getting sick, and be able to keep working.

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Response by:

George S Deepe, Jr, MD George S Deepe, Jr, MD
Professor of Clinical Medicine
Director of Infectious Diseases
College of Medicine
University of Cincinnati