From ArticleWorld

HIV is a retrovirus which means it is based on RNA rather the DNA. The viral RNA converts to viral DNA after infecting a cell and this in turn is absorbed by the cellular DNA and able to replicate. The virus attacks the immune system and makes it weak; should it become weak enough, AIDS develops. HIV also affects the kidneys, heart and brain and because the immune system is inefficient, cancer is more likely to develop in those infected with the virus.

In the 1930’s, a disease never seen before surfaced in sub-Saharan Africa and, at first, it spread slowly but soon increased in pace to affect the whole of the African continent and then abroad. Scientists set to work to try and discover what was causing this frightening condition and French scientists came up with the answer in 1983, resulting in HIV so named in 1986. The most likely theory of its source is that it was a disease affecting primates which evolved into one that could affect and then be transmitted by humans.

Contracting the disease

Most HIV infections are contracted through unprotected sex where the mucous membranes of one partner come into contact with the blood, semen or vaginal fluid of an infected partner. This applies whether the sex is oral, vaginal or anal.

HIV can also be passed on non-sexually through blood transfusions and shared needles whether for drugs use, tattoos or piercing. Babies born to infected mothers are at risk as well as babies who are breastfed by infected mothers.

Stages of the disease

There are three stages. The primary stage refers to the rapid replication of the cells containing the virus immediately after exposure to the disease. Symptoms are similar to the flu and for that reason difficult to detect unless tests are carried out. This is a problem as the patient is very infectious at this stage.

The second stage is known as clinical latency and may last for only two weeks or may go on for twenty years. The virus accumulates in the infected cells but declines in the bloodstream.

The third stage is when AIDS is diagnosed and this is based on the appearance of specific infections.


No cure has yet been found for HIV but there are drugs capable of delaying the onset of AIDS and treating the symptoms.