HIV, or human immunodeficiency virus, is a virus that attacks and weakens the immune system, making the body vulnerable to other infections. AIDS, or acquired immune deficiency syndrome, is the final stage of HIV infection, characterized by severe damage to the immune system and the development of certain infections and cancers.
HIV is primarily spread through sexual contact with an infected person, but it can also be transmitted through sharing needles or other equipment used to inject drugs, from an infected mother to her baby during pregnancy, childbirth, or breastfeeding, and through blood transfusions or organ transplants from an infected donor.
The virus enters the body through mucous membranes or cuts in the skin, and it attacks and kills a type of white blood cell called a CD4+ T cell, which is a key component of the immune system. Over time, as more and more of these cells are destroyed, the immune system becomes weaker and weaker, making the person increasingly susceptible to other infections.
There is no cure for HIV/AIDS, but antiretroviral therapy (ART) can slow the progression of the disease and prolong the lives of people living with HIV. ART involves taking a combination of drugs that work together to inhibit the replication of the virus, thereby slowing the destruction of the immune system.
Prevention of HIV primarily includes practicing safer sex (such as using condoms), avoiding sharing needles or other equipment used to inject drugs, getting tested for HIV and other sexually transmitted infections, and for women, using pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) medication to reduce their risk of contracting the virus.
It is important to understand that HIV disproportionately affects marginalized communities, particularly gay and bisexual men, Black people and Latinx people, people who inject drugs, and people living in poverty. Thus, it's crucial to understand the social factors that contribute to the spread of the virus and work to eliminate them.