Although more people die of heart disease and cancer each year, AIDS has become the health problem people fear the most. Much of the fear comes from ignorance and misunderstanding. Education is the most effective tool against AIDS. It is more important than ever for young people to learn the facts about AIDS. Many teenagers don’t know anyone who has AIDS. It is hard for them to believe they are at risk. It is a fact that the incidence of AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases is on a rapid rise among teens and people in their early twenties (Silverstein).
People frequently ask the questions, “How is HIV spread, what should I do if I think I may be infected with HIV, and how can people avoid getting AIDS?” In this paper I will try my best to make it clearer for those who have any doubt about their knowledge of HIV and AIDS and answering the questions above.
Today, the two diseases, HIV & AIDS, are rapidly increasing all over the United States. HIV is spread through the exchange of bodily fluids, primarily blood, semen, and blood products. HIV that is present in the sexual secretions of infected men and women gains access to the bloodstream of an uninfected person as a result of unprotected sex.
Another way that a person can be infected is by sharing needles or syringes that results in direct exposure to the blood of an infected individual. This is common among people using drugs that are injected in the veins (Folks 4).
HIV can also be transmitted from an infected mother to her baby, before or during childbirth, or through breast-feeding. Studies also show that only 25 to 35 percent of babies born to HIV-infected mothers worldwide actually become infected. This type of transmission accounts for 90 percent of all cases of AIDS in children. To me, this is the worst type of transmission because babies are defenseless and have no idea what is happening to them when they are so young (Treto).
Even when the children of HIV-infected mothers are fortunate enough to avoid the virus, there is still yet another incidence of heart problems 12 times that of the children in the general population (Folks 4).
Practices such as open mouth kissing, sharing toothbrushes, and sharing razors should be avoided. Researchers have recently identified a protein in saliva that prevents HIV from infecting white blood cells known as secretory leukocyte protease inhibitor SLPI (Folks 4-5).
There is no evidence of HIV being transmitted through insects because when the virus enters the insect, the insect does not become infected and cannot transmit HIV to the next human it feeds on or bites (Alvin Silverstein 18).
In 1983 a blood test was invented to detect whether a person’s blood contained antibodies against HIV, which was an indication that the person had been exposed to the virus. Three years ago an additional blood test was invented to detect HIV antigens. This enabled doctors to identify HIV even before the donor’s immune system had time to make antibodies. When new strains of HIV are identified from around the world, they will need to be evaluated for detection by these tests. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta Georgia established an authoritative definition for the diagnoses of AIDS. They concluded that the CD4 T-cell count in an HIV positive person must be below 200 cells per cubic mm of blood, or there has to be the clinical appearance of an initial AIDS-defining opportunistic infection, such as PCP (a type of pneumonia), oral candidiasis, pulmonary tuberculosis, or invasive cervical carcinoma (cancer in the cervix of women) (Virginia Silverstein 23).
There were more than 580,000 reported cases of AIDS in the United States between 1981 and 1996. Of these 580,000 cases, about 46 percent have been in Caucasians, 35 percent in blacks, 18 percent in Hispanics, and 1 percent in Asians. Males make up about 84 percent of these cases and females 15 percent. Children account the remaining 1 percent of AIDS cases. Women and children constitute one of the fastest-growing groups of people with AIDS (World Health Organization 32).
Fifty-two documented cases and 111 possible cases of occupational transmission of AIDS/HIV had been reported in health-care workers throughout December of 1996. The leading cause of death among Americans aged 25 to 44 years, death for American men among the same age group, and the third leading cause of death among American women in the same age group was AIDS in 1994 and 1995 (W.H.O. 35).
AIDS is rapidly expanding on a global scale. The World Health Organization estimates that between 1981, when the first AIDS cases were reported, and the end of 1996, more than 8.4 million adults and children had developed AIDS. In this same period there were 6.4 million deaths world wide from AIDS or HIV. About 360,000 of these deaths occurred in the United States (W.H.O. 39).
There was an estimated 22.6 million people worldwide living with HIV or AIDS in 1996. About 62 percent of them were living in sub-Saharan Africa, 23 percent in southern and eastern Asia and the Pacific, 6 percent in Latin America, 5 percent in North American and the Caribbean, and 2 percent in Europe and Central Asia. In Asia and Africa, most people contract the disease through heterosexual contact (Ports).
People generally do not die of HIV infection itself, but to opportunistic infections that occur when the immune system can no longer protect the body against agents normally found in the environment. Simple illnesses like the common cold, flu, chicken pox, etc., can be very dangerous for this reason (Virginia Silverstein 47).
The most common opportunistic infection seen in AIDS is PCP. This is a type of pneumonia, which is caused by a fungus that normally exists in the airways of all people. Two other diseases that are commonly associated with AIDS are bacterial pneumonia and tuberculosis. Other infectious fungi include species of the genus that is responsible for meningitis in up to 13 percent of people with AIDS (Alvin Silverstein 51).
The most common types of cancers that people with AIDS develop are B-cell lymphoma and Kaposi’s sarcoma (KS). Though the cause of KS is unknown, a link between KS and a new type of herpes virus was discovered in 1994. Viral opportunistic infections, especially with members of the herpes virus family, are common in people with AIDS (Centers for Disease Control 22, 23, 25).
In order to completely prevent the transmission of AIDS, dramatic changes in sexual behavior and drug dependence would have to occur throughout the world. Some programs that identify HIV-infected individuals and notify their sexual partners, as well as programs that promote HIV testing at the time of marriage of pregnancy, have been criticized for invading personal privacy (American Red Cross 58).
There have been many efforts aimed at public awareness propelled by community-based organizations. Public figures and celebrities who are themselves HIV infected like Magic Johnson, Rock Hudson, Greg Louganis, and Arthur Ashe have personalized the disease of AIDS and helped society come to terms with the enormity of the epidemic (Alvin Silverstein 62).
As a memorial to people who have died from AIDS, friends and families of AIDS victims stitched together a giant quilt in which each panel of the quilt was dedicated to the memory of an individual who died from AIDS. This quilt has traveled on display from community to community to promote AIDS awareness (Paul Volberding 131).
There have also been some attempts of assisting HIV-infected individuals by the U.S. government through legislation and additional community-funding measures. A law that added HIV infected people in the American with Disabilities Act made discrimination against people with AIDS for jobs, housing, and other social benefits illegal came out in 1990 (Volberding 136).
There was also a community-funding program designed by Ryan White and his organization to assist in the daily lives of people living with AIDS. The lack of effective vaccines and antiviral drugs for AIDS has spurred speculation that the funding for AIDS research is insufficient. Most of the funds are used for expensive clinical studies to evaluate new drugs. Many scientists believe that not enough is known about the basic biology of HIV and recommend shifting the emphasis of AIDS research to basic research that could ultimately result in more effective medicines (Volberding 154).
In the Mid-1980s, a diagnosis of AIDS seemed like a grim death sentence. Even though a vaccine for AIDS has not yet been produced, the disease is preventable if one has the proper knowledge. People can greatly reduce their chances of contracting AIDS by following some common sense rules based on the way the disease is transmitted, but the only one hundred percent sure way to stay safe is abstinence (Engstrom).
Most people usually avoid this option and look for other ways that they can minimize their risks. Some of these methods include not sharing needles with other drug users, getting to know one’s partner better, limiting sex partners, and the most common method, the use of a condom to avoid the exchange of bodily fluids that might transmit the AIDS virus. The ex-Mayor of San Francisco Dianne Feinstein pointed out, “If you’re going to bed with someone today, you go to bed with their entire sexual history” (126).
In my research paper I have included many sources and statistics that clearly show how both AIDS and HIV are getting worse all over the world. In conclusion, I think that if a cure for HIV and AIDS were discovered, they would be the most effective and significant drug treatments of the upcoming millennium. This was written in hopes that one would have the ability to clearly understand AIDS and HIV after reading this paper.
Silverstein, Alvin. AIDS: Deadly Threat. New Jersey: 1991.
Volberding, Paul. AIDS: Teenagers and HIV. New Jersey: 1992.
Ports, Suki. AIDS: Minority Project. New York: 1994.
Engstrom, Eric. Coping with AIDS. Minnesota: 1995.
Folks, Thomas. Transmission of AIDS. California: 1998.
Feinstein, Dianne. Prevention Methods of HIV & AIDS. San Francisco: 1991.
Treto, Elena. AIDS and Our Children. Georgia: 1997.
Virginia, Silverstein. HIV Illnesses. New Jersey: 1991.