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Straight, No Chaser: What Exactly Is AIDS?

By Jeffrey Sterling, MD August 25, 2019

This is the second blog in an ongoing series on HIV and AIDS.
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 (meaning infections not typically  present in persons with normal immunity).
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.
Feel free to ask your SMA expert consultant any questions you may have on this topic.
Order your copy of Dr. Sterling’s new book Behind The Curtain: A Peek at Life from within the ER at, iTunes, Amazon, Barnes and Nobles and wherever books are sold.
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