Nature, Transmission, Prevention, and Treatment of the HIV/AIDS
Arthur Ashe is an admirable and well known
American tennis player who won many championships. He became the first
African American male to win the men’s Wimbledon title in 1975. Also, he
was on the United States Davis Cup team from 1963 until 1984. Some of his
other major accomplishments include helping to form what is now the Association
of Tennis Professionals and winning the Australian Open, the United States
Open, and the French Open. Ashe lived a wonderful and successful life:
however, in 1983, disaster struck! Ashe acquired an incurable disease through
a tainted blood transfusion. This disease killed him in 1993. What is this
incurable disease that still haunts the lives of so many people? This is
a disease known as AIDS. AIDS is a fatal disease without a cure and a disease
that responds to little treatment. How can the spread of AIDS be stopped?
This paper will discuss the nature of the AIDS virus, the transmission
and the prevention of transmission, as well as the available treatments
for people with this disease.
First of all, AIDS is an acronym for Acquired
Immune Deficiency Syndrome. AIDS is acquired which means that it is not
passed down from generation to generation through a person’s genes. AIDS
is a disease that attacks the immune system, a system in the body that
produces white blood cells in order to fight off diseases. This disease
causes the immune system to be deficient, or weakened, so that it cannot
properly fight off diseases. AIDS is a syndrome, or a group of illnesses
with many possible symptoms that can occur together in a weakened condition.
AIDS is a pandemic, meaning that it can be found on all continents. The
disease was discovered in 1983, by a French cancer specialist, Luc Montagnier,
along with other scientists, at the Pasteur Institute in Paris. However,
there were AIDS cases reported as early as the 1950’s. “The 80s will go
down as the decade that AIDS began. We want to know, – Why” (Bevan 27)?
One of the reasons is the promiscuity of sexually active people during
the 1980s and the sharing of intravenous hypodermic needles and syringes
by drug users.
Secondly, AIDS is caused by the human immunodeficiency
virus, or HIV. This virus attacks the antibodies in a person’s immune system,
thereby disabling that system. HIV works in an unusual way because it uses
the immune system to its advantage. Viruses cannot live unless they are
inside of a living cell called a host. The virus uses the host cell to
reproduce themselves, causing the cell to die in the process. The new virii
are then set free. The HIV virus attacks T4 lymphocytes, which are a special
type of white blood cell. These cells are the body’s method of defense.
Without them, humans are susceptible to disease and infection. It is not
HIV that kills people, but the opportunistic infections people get because
of a weakened immune system. Bevan characterizes HIV by saying, “It’s the
sneakiest virus of all. It goes for the crucial link in the immune system,
the cells at the heart of the fightback effort” (Bevan 24). This is why
HIV is so dangerous.
Being HIV positive does not mean that a
person has full-blown AIDS, and not everyone who gets HIV develops full-blown
AIDS. When one fully develops AIDS, the signs and symptoms become more
evident. These symptoms include: “a failing immune system, persistent swollen
lymph nodes and opportunistic infections” (Stine 114). A common example
of a skin disorder caused by AIDS is Kaposi’s sarcoma. That is, “a multifocal,
spreading cancer of connective tissue, principally involving the skin;
it usually begins on the toes or the feet as reddish blue or brownish soft
nodules and tumors” (Stine 442). Lymph nodes are gland-like forms that
help stop the spread of infection. When they become persistently swollen,
one can develop lymphadenopathy syndrome or LAS. This condition can bring
on mild symptoms of fever and weight loss. Other signs of full-blown AIDS
include oral lesions such as thrush and hairy leukoplakia. People may also
develop kidney disorders and gastrointestinal diseases like severe diarrhea
that can cause weight loss.
Since AIDS is such a serious incurable
disease, it is important to know how the disease is transmitted. One method
of transmission is via bodily fluids by having sex. This includes all forms
of sex: vaginal sex, anal sex, and oral sex. The transmission also occurs
in many other sexual activities. The human immunodeficiency virus can be
transmitted through vaginal secretions in women to men by way of the bloodstream.
In the same way, men can pass HIV to women in their semen. Men can also
pass it to other men by way of bodily fluids if the men are bisexual or
homosexual The more sexual partners one has, the greater the risk of contracting
HIV. “There is a saying, in terms of AIDS, that when you sleep with someone,
you are in effect sleeping with all their partners over the past five years”
Another way that one can get HIV is by
sharing hypodermic drug needles. “Each time a person uses a needle and
syringe, a tiny trace of blood is left inside” (Bevan 10). The blood that
is left inside of this needle could contain HIV. When the HIV infected
needle or syringe is inserted into one’s body, the virus is able to travel
into that person’s bloodstream, thereby transmitting HIV. Even if the needle
appears to be clean, it can still contain HIV infected blood. “A drop of
blood too small to be noticed can contain thousands of viruses” (Bevan
11). Drug users have enough problems to worry about without having to worry
about getting AIDS. However, many drug users continue to share their needles
because of excuses, desperation, and because sharing needles has become
a ritual to develop closeness. Some people believe that if they inject
the needle into the right place and don’t hit a vein that they will be
safe. It doesn’t matter where the needle is injected. As long as the needle
is contaminated with HIV, there is a possibility of catching AIDS. Other
drug users are so addicted and desperate that they would risk anything
– even their lives to get high. “For some addicts, the chance of catching
AIDS seems less important than missing the next fix” (Bevan 15). Finally,
some users share needles in order to feel accepted into the group. People
who use drugs are often looking for something to belong to, and they will
do anything to feel like they are part of a group. They feel that they
need to share needles in order to experience a special bond between themselves
and others. It has become a ritual. However, no matter what the reason
is that one has to share drug needles, there is never a good one.
It is also possible for someone to become
infected with AIDS through a blood transfusion. Since a transfusion involves
placing foreign blood directly into the recipient’s blood stream, the necessary
condition for transmission is present, and that condition is the direct
contact of potentially infected fluid with susceptible cells in the recipient.
This is a method of AIDS transmission that the patient can do little about.
Hemophiliacs who received blood transfusions before 1985 are the ones most
at risk in this category. Today, there is only a small possibility of someone
getting HIV through a blood transfusion. This is because in June of 1985,
hospitals began screening blood to see if it was HIV infected (Flynn 64).
Presently, there is only a small chance that the tests will not notice
the virus in the blood. “It is estimated that undetected HIV is present
in fewer than one in four hundred fifty thousand to six hundred thousand
units of blood” (Microsoft Corporation 7). Technicians also pasteurize
the blood to assure elimination of HIV.
Another way for AIDS to be transmitted
is from an infected mother to her baby, either before or during childbirth,
or through breast-feeding. The blood supplies of the baby and the mother
are closely linked during pregnancy. Even though the mother’s and the child’s
bloodstream are separated by the placenta, preventing the exchange of cells,
the exchange of nutrients, blood, and small particles like viruses are
still exchanged. HIV infection during pregnancy mainly occurs during the
third trimester because of small tears which sometimes occur in the placenta.
“Current statistics indicate that there is about a 50% chance that an infected
mother will produce an infected infant” (Conner 149). Most infected children
die before the age of five years (Conner 151). “Even uninfected children
born to HIV-infected mothers have an incidence of heart problems 12 times
that of children in the general population” (Microsoft Corporation 7).
It is important that people realize that they are not only putting themselves
at risk, but also the lives of others.
However, it is not possible for a person
to contract AIDS by casual contact. AIDS cannot be transmitted by simply
touching someone, going to school with someone, or even hugging someone.
In order for HIV to be transmitted, an exchange of bodily fluids must occur.
There is no other way. “Additionally, HIV is unable to reproduce outside
its living host; therefore, it does not spread or maintain infectiousness
outside its host” (Microsoft Corporation 7).
It is also impossible for HIV to be spread
by insects. Many people, however, believe that mosquitoes and other sucking
insects can do so. However, HIV can only live for a short period of time
outside of a cell, or host, and therefore, cannot infect the insect. So,
if the insect is unable to be infected, then the insect is unable to infect
Knowing the methods of transmission enables
us to know how to prevent the AIDS virus. One way to prevent the spread
of AIDS is by practicing abstinence or by having safe sex. Abstinence is
defined as not having sex at all, and it is the safest practice. However,
if one feels that he must have sex, then safe sex should be practiced.
Safe sex involves the use of a condom, according to the instructions on
the packet. Latex condoms are the best condoms to use. One should also
limit his sexual partners. The more sexual partners one has, the higher
the risk of contracting AIDS. There are also many other sexual activities
with a lower risk other than having actual sexual intercourse. These activities
include: “self masturbation, dry kissing, mutual masturbation, and wet,
deep kissing” (Bevan 36). Anal sex is the riskiest form because the linings
in the anus are more sensitive, and are more likely to tear, enabling HIV
to travel into the body. If one refuses to practice abstinence or safe
sex, he should be regularly examined by doctors in order to know if he
has contracted AIDS or another sexually transmitted disease. By knowing,
he can get treatment and can then be more careful when around others so
that they will not get a disease, also.
Another way to prevent AIDS transmission
is by not handling or sharing any hypodermic drug needles. Many people
do not believe that AIDS is transmissible by sharing drug needles because
the HIV seems to be taken outside of the body first and then passed on.
This does occur, however, it is in a syringe, and blood cells are not exposed
to the environment because of this. “Also, it is usually done within a
very short period of time, usually within seconds, or, at most, minutes”
(Conner 150). Thus, the safest way would be not participating in any drug
activity. Prevention of this mode of transmission involves breaking the
link between individuals and the syringe. However, if drugs are used, and
needles are shared, the needles should be properly sterilized. Having sterile
needles available for free is in debate in many communities, and in some
places in effect, especially in highly populated urban areas. A health
worker says, “Free needles will support the drug community, but arrest
AIDS spread” (Bevan 12).
Finally, in order to prevent the spread
of AIDS, one must be aware of the fact that it is possible for anyone to
get HIV. Many people believe that AIDS is a disease for certain stereotypes
such as homosexuals and drug abusers. However, this is not true. Anyone
can get HIV, no matter who he is. As mentioned earlier, Arthur Ashe, one
of the world’s best tennis players, contracted HIV through a blood transfusion.
He was not a homosexual and he did not share drug needles. However, he
contracted HIV and it killed him. Another devastating case of AIDS was
the well known movie star, Rock Hudson. Hudson is, “a Hollywood legend
and undisclosed homosexual. He was the first major public figure to reveal
he had AIDS. Hudson died in 1985 at age 59” (Stine 59). Hudson, unlike
Ashe, could have prevented his contraction of AIDS, however, he was frivolous
and therefore contracted AIDS. If you ever have sex, use drugs in non-sterile
needles, or come into contact with any form of bodily fluid, there is a
possibility of contracting HIV. True, there are people who are more at
risk than others. These people are:
“Hemophiliacs who received contaminated
blood before 1985. People who have lived or traveled to Central Africa
(over the last 15 years) and had sexual relationships there. Homosexual
and bisexual men. People who share needles to inject drugs” (Bevan 51).
However, just because one does not participate
in any of these risky activities does not mean that he should not be careful.
As stated before, one cannot tell if somebody has AIDS by looking at him.
Therefore, people must be careful and protect themselves.
Now that we know the methods of transmission,
and the prevention of AIDS, we need to know what kind of treatments are
available in case AIDS is acquired. One way to treat AIDS is by using a
drug called retrovir zidovudine or asizidothymidine, which is commonly
referred to as AZT. As stated earlier, AIDS is an incurable disease. There
is also no vaccine for AIDS. The drug AZT can delay the progression of
AIDS in some patients. “Clinical benefits from AZT may be apparent within
six weeks of therapy; and continued treatment prolongs survival” (Stine
131). Also, new research shows that women with AIDS who receive AZT drug
therapy during their pregnancies and give birth a C-section delivery may
be providing their babies the best protection against HIV infection. Unfortunately,
the drug’s capability to prolong the life of an AIDS patient declines with
time. Also, this drug does not stop the spread of HIV to other people.
There are also other medicines available, and many are still in testing.
Another form of treatment is alternating
therapy. Alternating therapy consists of taking different drugs on and
off. It gives people’s bodies an opportunity to mend from the side effects
of each drug. Patients can alternate between AZT and other drugs. It is
possible in some cases, not to suffer any side effects if the alternating
drugs are taken correctly. Side effects can also be stopped before they
start if alternating therapy is used.
A further method of treatment for AIDS
is treatment of the opportunistic infections caused by the breakdown of
the immune system. Most commonly, people die from the cancers and other
opportunistic infections caused from AIDS rather than from the virus itself.
“The most common opportunistic infection seen in AIDS is Pneumocytis carinii
pneumonia (PCP), which is caused by a fungus that normally exists in the
airways of all people” (Microsoft Corporation 4). This is a serious, life-threatening
disease. Therefore, the better the infections are treated, the longer the
person may live. The bad point of this is, “treatment for an OI is lifelong
because of relapse if it is stopped” (Stine 116). Since the immune system
is what is being attacked, the body cannot fight off the disease without
drugs. If treatment for opportunist infections is stopped, a relapse is
Some of the newest treatments include more
antiviral therapies, immune system boosters, and triple drug therapy. These
are still in testing. Each new approach and drug must be extensively evaluated
for safety and effectiveness. So far, the immune boosters are not very
effective. These are used to help the immune system fight off HIV. However,
the triple drug therapy, which consists of indinavir, zidovudine, and lamivudine,
have been prosperous. Triple drug therapy, also known as cocktail therapy,
can suppress HIV for at least two years. The main problem with these drugs
is that testing is a long process. There have been many derogatory comments
towards the FDA, or Federal Drug Administration, concerning the length
of testing. Therefore, policies have changed in order to give quicker approval.
However, “early availability of a drug entails the risk that it may be
used in people before its toxicity and side effects are fully understood”
(Stine 337). However, many people with AIDS are willing to take this risk
with the hope that the drug may prove effective.
In conclusion, AIDS is an incurable disease
with few treatments, caused by HIV, transmitted by way of bodily fluids.
AIDS is mainly transmitted through sex and sexual activities, and by sharing
hypodermic drug needles. Sexual transmission is most dangerous if there
are many sexual partners, and if there is not use of a condom. Transmission
via blood transfusions has become almost absent, thanks to blood screenings.
Scientists are working hard on treatments and are working for a cure, however,
it is lacking to be found. A World Health Organization official says, “AIDS…will
test our fundamental values and measure the moral strength of our cultures”
(Bevan 6). We are the only ones who can stop this pandemic. There is a
“Curable? No. Treatable? To a limited extent.
Preventable? By a vaccine, no – but by changing our behavior, yes. This
is how we must fight AIDS. … Prevention is better than cure. And when
there’s no cure, prevention is all we have” (Bevan 46, 56).