Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome or Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome (AIDS) is a diseased caused by the Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV). HIV creates illness and problems by attacking the immune system. Other diseases and conditions may occur because of the weakened immune system or because of the long term affect of HIV on the body.
Opportunistic Infections (also called AIDS defining illnesses) and toxicities or side effects related to anti-HIV drugs are some. While others are diseases and conditions that may happen to people with or without HIV.
The immune system can control many viruses but HIV targets and infects the same immune system cells that protect us from illnesses. These are a type of white blood cells called CD4 cells.
HIV takes control of the CD4 cells, turning them into virus factories that produce thousands of viral copies. As the virus evolves, it damages or kills CD4 cells, therefore weakening the immune system.
If the immune system loses too many CD4 cells, the body is less able to fight off infection and can develop serious illnesses, cancers and neurological problems. Called opportunistic infections (OIs), they take advantage of the body’s weakened defenses. OIs can lead to hospitalization and disability, and are responsible for most of the deaths in people with AIDS.
An HIV+ person with a CD4 cell count of 200 or less is defined by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) as someone with AIDS. If a person has HIV and one or more OIs (opportunistic infections), that person has AIDS. Even if the CD4 cell count goes back above 200 or an OI is successfully treated, a diagnosis of AIDS will still be made.
Take note, this does not necessarily mean that a person is sick or will get sick in the future. The government uses this as a system to keep track of people who have been diagnosed with AIDS.
Prevent OIs from happening by keeping the immune system as strong as possible. Taking HIV drugs before your CD4 cell count falls too low (below 200) allows the immune system to do its job of controlling infections.
If development of an OI occurs, effective treatment options are available in most cases. After recovery, on-going maintenance treatment may need to be put into effect to prevent the OI from returning. If the CD4 cell count goes up, being able to stop prophylaxis or maintenance treatments may be an option.
Do not discontinue any treatment without discussing it first with your doctor.