What is AIDS?


AIDS is an acronym for the Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome. As the name implies, AIDS is a combination of symptoms and failures of the immune system, caused by an infectious agent. The infectious agent usually associated with AIDS is HIV, the Human Immunodeficiency Virus, named after the symptoms that it causes. While there is much debate as to how the virus is transmitted between individuals, it is universally agreed that direct contact between most bodily fluids (such as blood, semen, and breast milk) is the primary method of transmission. Indirect contact with blood via hypodermic needles is also among the leading known causes of infection.

The earliest known cases of AIDS were identified in Los Angeles, United States in 1981. Five men were diagnosed with then-rare pneumocystis pneumonia within a very short period of time. Many new cases of pneumocystis pneumonia, almost all in openly homosexual men, led to the disease being termed The Gay Related Immune Deficiency, or GRID for short. When new cases of the disease were identified the following year in heterosexual men, the disease was renamed AIDS. The cause of the outbreak was not known until French scientists discovered the lymphadenopathy-associated virus in 1983. Independently discovered by American retrovirus experts one year later, credit for the discovery of the virus and for establishing the link between HIV and AIDS has since been subject to as much scientific debate as has the virus itself. Traces of the HIV virus were later identified on tissue samples from corpses dating as far back as 1959.

As early as 1987 doubts have arisen as to the link between HIV and AIDS. While mainstream science factors HIV as the cause of AIDS, and AIDS as the cause of local diseases, there remains a small community of scientists and activists who question the validity of this claim. These groups point out that the diseases characteristic of AIDS infection are almost as common among HIV non-carriers as among carriers. Thus, had the sick been HIV carriers, they would then be considered as AIDS patients, even though their medical condition would not have changed. Also, many HIV-positive patients do not contract fatal diseases, and from a medical standpoint are otherwise just as healthy as their non-HIV positive counterparts. Thus, those who question HIV as the cause of AIDS ascertain that while HIV may in fact be more proliferant among AIDS patients than among the general public, it is not unlike other viruses in that regard.

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