What is AIDS?

Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome, or AIDS, is the result of the HIV infection. The immune system is attacked by HIV, which is a retrovirus. AIDS is the end stage of the overall infection lifespan. Since at least 1977 to 1978, the virus has been present in Africa, Haiti and the United states. It began presenting as a particularly rare type of cancer, pneumonia and other intense illnesses. Many doctors in the New York and Los Angeles areas were citing this new bout of stronger ailments. AIDS was first realized in 1981.

It has grown in numbers since it was initially recognized. As of 2008, it was approximated that over 33-million people throughout the world are HIV-positive. In addition, it has taken the lives of about 2-million people during that year. Over 2.1-million children were living with the HIV infection as of 2008.

Though AIDS is a world-wide health concern for millions, it is noted as being particularly severe for South-East Asia, Russia, Latin America and Sub-Saharan Africa. Notably however, travelers should be concerned with sexual behavior and drug usage rather than particular geographic area. There is a lot of research moving to find possible cures, however as of this time there are no known AIDS-fighting immunizations available.

Transmission of the Retrovirus

During study, it has been found that transmission of HIV is possible via contact with HIV-positive blood samples. This can be channeled through a transfusion or injection of infected blood, sharing tainted equipment like needles and through unprotected sex with an HIV-positive person. It also can be transmitted via pregnancy, birth and breastfeeding from mother to child.

The studies have done well to show common misconceptions about the transmission of HIV. It has been found that mosquitoes are not a carrier of the infection. Nor can it be transmitted via sweat, urine, tears or saliva. Healthy skin acts as an effective barrier to the virus, with the exception of an open sore or wound. Also, transportation by HIV-positive people or people with AIDS does not pose a risk of infection. Buses, trains, airplanes, cars, etc., are all safe for other non-HIV-positive passengers, crew and pilots/drivers of such vehicles.

There are some high-risk areas found during research. Namely, the favor of HIV transmission can be found in areas where sharing of needles, drug abuse, unprotected intercourse, or use of sex workers is common. These form the populations that are higher in risk for the infection.

The Symptoms at the Three Distinguishable Phases

On average, incubation for AIDS lasts anywhere from 3-weeks to 6-months. It has three distinguishable phases:

  1. Sero-conversion phase, the primary infecting period, happens between 4 – 8 weeks post contamination and usually shows no symptoms. Approximately 30 – 60 % however present with a flu-like list of symptoms such as headache, mild fever, muscle pain. This normally lasts from 1-4 full weeks.
  2. Once the initial phase, or “silent phase” is over – a phase that can last for years – the next phase is where the immune system progressively deteriorates. This can show with elevated stress such as fever, lymph node swelling and infections. It also can cause shingles and weight loss.
  3. The AIDS phase is the final phase and it normally happens approximately 10-years after initial contamination. It can present with memory loss, pneumonia, tuberculosis, nausea and diarrhea. Here the patient suffers moderate to severe weight loss, lymph nodes are dramatically swollen and skin lesions start. Tuberculosis is the number one leading cause of death for people with HIV.

Effective Prevention

When it comes to prevention, the most effective actions to take are to:

  1. Consistently use condoms during sexual contact and intercourse.
  2. Avoid any use of non-sterile tools or non-sterile settings for infusion or injection.

Travelers should avoid sexual contact with HIV-positive patients or those whose HIV status is not known. Also, avoid people who are unaware and uneducated of their HIV knowledge.

At this time there is no immunization for post-HIV contamination. It is possible to use post-exposure prophylaxis to aid in reducing risk of the infections’ progression. The treatment can be requested at hospitals within 48-hours of possible contamination. Note though that this treatment is not 100 % effective and may not be readily available in all areas.

Treatment – Anti-Retroviral Therapeutic Program

An anti-retroviral therapeutic program can be instituted however it is known to merely slow down the virus, but cannot guarantee a recovery. It also comes with a serious list of side effects and symptoms that may be difficult, if not impossible, to manage from day-to-day. Upon diagnosis, this treatment is still needed and moderately effective.