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AIDS - Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome
AIDS is a communicable disease that destroys a persons immune system.
AIDS is short for Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome. Acquired refers to the fact that we catch or get this disease from others. The Immune System is the system in our body that is responsible for fighting germs that cause disease. Deficiency is a weakness, in the case of AIDS it weakens the Immune System. When a person's immune system is damaged, they are more likely to become sick from illnesses that might not hurt a person who has a healthy immune system. Syndrome is a collection of diseases that can attack the body if the immune system is not working properly.
AIDS IS a communicable disease. Communicable diseases are diseases that you can "catch" from someone else. A communicable disease is a disease that spreads from person to person. Some people may use the words contagious or infectious when talking about communicable diseases.
AIDS is a very serious disease that is caused by a tiny germ called a virus. HIV is the name of the virus that causes AIDS. HIV stands for Human Immunodeficiency Virus. HIV is a very unique germ that has the ability to attack and kill white blood cells called T-C ells which are a very important part of our immune system. Without T-Cells our immune system cannot work properly.
In order to get AIDS you must catch the HIV virus. Thankfully the HIV virus is not easy to catch. Catching HIV isn't like catching a cold virus or a flu virus. You won't catch HIV by someone sneezing or coughing on you or sharing a drink with a person who has the virus. You cannot get HIV by hugging or holding the hand of, sharing a school bus or classroom with, or visiting the home of someone who has HIV. HIV is only passed on through direct contact with certain body fluids or blood.
Most people in the United States who have the virus caught it by sharing drug needles or syringes with a person who was HIV infected or having sexual contact with a person who has HIV.
Sometimes an HIV infected mother passes the virus to her unborn child. This can be prevented by treating the mother and child around the time the baby is delivered. Some people accidentally get HIV from blood transfusions when they go to the hospital. In North America today, all donated blood is tested for HIV, so the risk of getting HIV is less than one in a million.
At first most people don't feel any different after they are infected with HIV. In fact, many infected people do not experience symptoms for years!
Even though a person who is HIV infected deosn't have any signs of the disease they are still contagious which means they are able to give the disease to others if there is direct contact with blood or other body fluids. Even though that person may feel just fine, the HIV virus is silently reproducing itself and destroying T cells.
Eventually after years of the virus destroying T cells a person's T cell count gets very low, the immune system is so weak that many different diseases and infections can develop. People with AIDS often develop pneumonia, which causes bad coughing and breathing problems. Other infections can affect the eyes, the organs of the digestive system, the kidneys, the lungs, and the brain. Some people develop rare kinds of cancers of the skin.
A person can have HIV without even knowing it. The only way to know for sure if you are HIV positive which means you have the virus is to have a blood test performed by a doctor.
There is NO cure for AIDS. Scientists have discovered strong medications to slow down the disease so people will live longer, but there is NO cure
The best way to avoid getting HIV is to not engage in sexual contact or share needles.
There are other ways to prevent the spread of HIV and AIDS by blood or body fluids:
- Never touch another person's sores, cuts, or blood. If someone at school or at sports gets hurt and starts bleeding, ask an adult for help right away.
- Never pick up or handle needles that you might find outside.
- Health care workers such as doctors, nurses, and dentists should always wear plastic gloves when working on a patient. Hospitals have strict procedures for handling samples of blood and other body fluids to prevent others from coming in contact with HIV.