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Straight, No Chaser: What is AIDS?

By Jeffrey Sterling, MD November 19, 2018

HIV

This is the first blog in an ongoing series on HIV and AIDS.

  • For an explanation of how HIV is contracted, click here.
  • For an explanation of the signs and symptoms of HIV/AIDS is, click here.

After all these years, it’s still an interesting and important enough question to ask and to know how to answer. Most know that AIDS is a devastating disease caused by the HIV virus. However, courtesy of the National Institutes of Health, consider the following:
A – Acquired – AIDS is not something you inherit from your parents. You acquire AIDS after birth.
I – Immuno – Your body’s immune system includes all the organs and cells that work to fight off infection or disease.
D – Deficiency – You get AIDS when your immune system is “deficient,” or isn’t working the way it should.
S – Syndrome – A syndrome is a collection of symptoms and signs of disease. AIDS is a syndrome, rather than a single disease, because it is a complex illness with a wide range of complications and symptoms.
Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome is the final stage of HIV infection. People at this stage of HIV disease have badly damaged immune systems, which put them at risk for opportunistic infections.
You will be diagnosed with AIDS if you have one or more specific opportunistic infections, certain cancers (such as Kaposi’s sarcoma) or a very low number of CD4 cells (a measure of the strength of your immune systems function).  If you have AIDS, you will need medical intervention and treatment to prevent death.
Check back to Straight, No Chaser for additional posts on HIV/AIDS, including risk factors and symptoms, progression/complications and treatment.
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0 thoughts on “Straight, No Chaser: What is AIDS?

  1. Dr. Sterling,
    In your post you said that AIDS is not something that you inherit from your parents, you acquire AIDS after birth. While I know that it is not inherited, there are babies that are born with AIDS because it as passed on from the mother (I thought). So babies don’t get it during pregnancy, it happens during birth or afterward??!!

    1. Hi, Stephanie. You’re confusing and conflating HIV and AIDS. Yes, HIV can be transmitted via amniotic fluid or maternal blood before or during the birthing process, and from mother’s milk after birth. That’s not the same as developing AIDS, which is a specific syndrome (a disease complex) which develops years to decades (if HIV is appropriately treated) after the HIV virus is introduced into one’s body. This explains the difference in Magic Johnson having been HIV positive but never having developed AIDS. Thanks for your question and for following Straight, No Chaser.

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