HIV is simply Human Immunodeficiency Virus. It refers to a type of virus that is known to cause disease in only human beings and can only be transmitted through human contact.

The virus, when contracted, suppresses the immune system of human beings by destroying the white blood cells that help the body to fight infection.

There are two types of the human immunodeficiency virus, they are

HIV-1 and HIV-2. HIV-1 is found in all parts of the world while HIV-2 is found mostly in West Africa and it is not as dangerous as HIV-1.

An individual may be infected for many years with HIV without being aware because no symptoms are associated with the early stage of infection of the virus. The infected individual, although unaware of his HIV status, is able to infect others.

From the point of infection, the virus begins to damage the immune system, although it tries to fight back and can do so for as long as 10 years, depending on the health and lifestyle of the individual. Eventually, the virus continues to do damage until the immune system is too weak to fight back.

AIDS, referred to as Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome, is an advanced stage of HIV infection when the body’s immune system is no longer able to fight infections that the body would normally be able to withstand.

AIDS is an end stage of HIV infection and not a separate illness. It is at this point that signs and symptoms are manifested.

At this point, the infected person becomes vulnerable to picking up other infections. These are referred to as opportunistic infections because they take advantage of the compromised immune system to cause illness in the body.

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It is also important to note that AIDS is not a disease in itself, but a collection of infections that occur when the body’s immune system does not work any more and the body cannot protect itself from diseases.

When people get tested for HIV and are found to be infected, they are referred to as having been tested as HIV positive and people living with HIV/AIDS (PLWHA), while those that have tested for HIV and found not to be infected are referred to as HIV negative.

At present, there is no cure for HIV and it is believed that most people living with HIV/AIDS will eventually die of AIDS-related illnesses, but with the advancement in treatment therapies for HIV and opportunistic illnesses, the prognosis for PLWHA has dramatically extended.

PLWHA are now able to have negative children and live longer and healthier than PLWHA a decade ago. With further research into the field, it is believed that a cure may be developed or at the least, the life span of PLWHA be so extended by adequate treatment and care that will be comparable to those not infected by HIV.

When bacteria, parasites, etc., enter the body, they are recognised as foreign and this signals the immune system to kick into action.

The immune system seeks the foreign invaders and destroys them, but when the immune system does not perform its primary task of defending the body adequately, the result is infection of the body.

To be continued

•This piece has been written for the purpose of HIV/AIDS education by Dr. Rotimi Adesanya, a medical practitioner and trained HIV/AIDS counsellor. Visit

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