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In 1918 the United States experienced one of the worst epidemics in its history. With 500,000 dead in a matter of 6 months, the Spanish influenza left its mark. With approximately 11.7 million dead worldwide, Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome(AIDS) is still leaving its mark. It is a pandemic the likes of which the world has always feared to see.
The HIV virus comes in several varieties, yet they kill basically the same. Our understanding of this virus and how it works is essential to finding its cure, and to preventing its spread. Who it affects and the reasons for its spreading are also important to fight against it. And finally, what can be done to treat and prevent it is essential.
According to the World Health Organization we began to see what AIDS truly was in the late 1970’s to early 80’s, mostly in men and women with multiple sex partners located in East and Central Africa, but also in bisexuals and homosexuals in specific urban areas of the Americas, Ausrtalasia and Western Europe. Aids was and is spread still through infected hypodermic needles which drug abusers are affected by, but also through transfusion of the blood and its components. And sadly, whenever a mother is infected, the unborn child will almost positively receive the virus before, during, or after the pregnancy.
The viruses which cause AIDS, otherwise known as Human Immunodeficiecy Viruses(HIV) were first discovered in 1983 cooperatively by Dr. Robert Gallo of the National Cancer Institute and Dr. Luc Montagnier of the Pasteur Institute in France. Aids is caused mainly by the HIV-1 virus, while the HIV-2 virus is less pronounced among those infected. Scientists are puzzled as to why this dominant HIV-1 virus has 10 different genetic subtypes, some think that it is so the virus will survive no matter what.
HIV is part of a group of viruses called retroviruses. This category basically describes how the virus transmits and reproduces itself. Which is to say that upon entering the body the virus attaches itself to a T-4 cell(T-Helper cell), which is the type of cell that marks the bad things in our body so that another cell, the B-lymphocyte, can activate the production of antibodies, which are what would normally kill the virus. So, after attaching itself to this cell it then injects its viral replicating DNA in, which then copies itself
on to the cells DNA, thus changing the whole function of the cell from killing the foreign agents which enter our body, to producing more of the virus that will eventually lead to the death of our body, because the cell is then used as a manufacturing plant for the virus. The one cell that entered your body is thus turned into 500, which then turns into 25,000, then 12,500,000. The virus is not strong merely because it replicates, however, it is strong because of what it replicates on, which is the helping cell of your immune system. But the most bizarre thing of the whole virus is that it doesn’t kill you. It only weakens your immune system so other viruses and even bacteria can finish the job.
The first set of symptoms are called AIDS-related complex(ARC). These symptoms include fever, diarrhea, weight loss, and fatigue. These are only signs that you might have the virus HIV, and are not the full-fledged symptoms of AIDS.
The two most common infections seen in AIDS patients are Pneumocystiscarinii Pneumonia(PCP), which is a parasitic infection of the lungs, and Karposi’s Sarcoma(KS), which is a type of cancer. The purplish dots on the skin that are usually associated with AIDS are from KS. Other common infections are non-Hodgekins lymphoma, primary lymphoma of the brain, severe infections with yeast, zytomegalovirus, herpes, and parasites such as taxoplasma or cryptosporidia. Some neurological disorders are: chronic aseptic meningitis,focal deficits, hallucinations, and progressive dementia. So as one can see any way it can open you up to an infection, is a bad way.
The full-blown AIDS patient is usually very fragile and weak, having to be placed in hospital care because they find it hard to breathe. The slightest breeze, sometimes sets their whole body into a shiver that might not go away for a minute or a day. They usually have a constant fever, and an even more persistent wheeze of a cough, wheeze, because they don’t have enough strength in their body to actually cough right.
It is estimated that one-quarter to one-half of all those infected will develop AIDS within 4-10 years. This estimate, is said to be very shaky, because scientists are saying the percentage will be higher. People with the virus, however, can exhibit no symptoms, or mild symptoms for sometimes up to 20 years.
It was once thought that homosexuals and bisexuals were the only ones infected and getting infected by HIV, but now it is known that it can be transmitted by any sex preference, gender, race, and nationality. The main HIV viruses are only transmittable through the direct exchange of bodily fluids like semen, vaginal excretions, and blood. But there is a virus, though only reported a few times, that is transmitted through the saliva in our mouths. Could it be that AIDS is the ultimate punishment for promiscuity? Could this be God’s way of saying, stop messing around down there?
By the end of 1997 11.7 million were dead because of it, and 2.7 of those million were under the age of 15. More recently a report from the United Nations Program on HIV/AIDS(UNAIDS) and the World Health Organization(WHO) stated that 50% of the 5.8 million newly infected people in 1998 were in the age group of 15-24. These are frightening statistics, because now HIV has become the plague of the younger generation, which means that it will spread undoubtedly.
The treatment for AIDS has progressed immensely in the past few years alone. Getting told that you are HIV positive no longer means that you were just given a death sentence. Conventionally, the normal AIDS patient would have to require retroviral intervention in addition to lymphoma, or whatever else they might have, treatment, which would usually be chemotherapy and AZT or inosine pronobax which normally extends the ARC period of the patients life. This treatment would probably still be in effect, if it weren’t for the increased pressure put on by the AIDS activists, polititans, and people.
Now however, drug cocktails are the most effective. In June of 1997, a federal task force released new guidelines, calling for early treatment with the use of 2 nucleosid analogues(category to which AZT belongs) and 1 pro tease inhibitor. So if the government says its ok then it must be. This combining of different drugs is not a cure in the least, even though one doctor stated that with his patients all traces had been eliminated from the bloodstream! Don’t get to excited though, because he forgot to mention that there were traces still found in the lymph nodes! So the drugs are really only used to manage the life one would live if infected.
The President made a statement challenging the scientists of the United States to find a cure by 2007. The scientific community was displeased with his comment, because he has yet to mandate the appropriate funds for this ”challenge.”
The reason AIDS is a pandemic and not an epidemic, is because it is prevalent throughout a whole country,continent and world. I think that a solution to this societal problem is quite a monumental task. It would require at least half the world’s cooperation.
But before any of the healing can start, the world as a whole must come to the decision that AIDS needs to be stopped, killed, annihilated, whatever, you’d like to call it. And when I say the world, I don’t mean it’s leaders, I mean the people, the masses. The societal opinion and feeling about AIDS needs to change. We need to address why it is spreading still, even though almost every person on Earth knows what it is. We need to bring out in the open, as Swift did in Gulliver’s Travels, the problems of our society. More specifically, we need to talk with our youth and try to stop promiscuity before it happens. We need to make sure that our children know how to use protection, when they do have sex, even it makes us feel awkward, or like we’re showing them too early. The question becomes would we rather our children learn from people you don’t even know, or would we rather teach them ourselves?
The fate of many will depend less on science than on the ability of large numbers of human beings to change their behavior in the face of growing danger.