HIV (Human Immunodeficiency Virus), the virus that causes AIDS, was first discovered in 1981 in a remote area of central Africa. It has since swept across the globe, infecting millions in a relatively short period of time. AIDS has killed more than 28 million people that we know of, with up to 3.6 million people dying in 2005 alone While many cases go unreported, the prevalence of the disease is increasing.
AIDS has been able to infect and kill so many people because of its unique makeup. Let's look at some of the features that make this disease so unusual:
* HIV spreads by intimate contact with an infected person. Forms of intimate contact that can transmit AIDS include sexual activity and any sort of situation that allows blood from one person to enter another. Especially when you compare it with the many viruses that spread through the air, it would seem like the intimacy involved in the transmission of AIDS would be a limiting factor. However…
* A person can carry and transmit the HIV virus for many years before any symptoms show themselves. A person can be contagious for a decade or more before any visible signs of disease become apparent. In a decade, a promiscuous HIV carrier can potentially infect dozens of people, who each can infect dozens of people, and so on.
* HIV invades the cells of our immune system and reprograms the cells to become HIV-producing factories. Slowly, the number of immune cells in the body dwindles and AIDS develops. Once AIDS manifests, a person is susceptible to many different infections, because the immune system has been weakened so much by the HIV it can no longer fight back effectively.
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