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Since the discovery of AIDS, there have been steady increases each year in the number of people infected and those that die as a result of their infections. Africa has experienced the most devastating effects of the disease. Approximately 26.6 million people living in Southern Africa are infected with HIV, which is ½ of their entire population. It is estimated that this accounts for approximately 70% of all people infected with AIDS around the world. Eastern Europe and Asia are all experiencing an outbreak with the number of those infected increasing every year. In the United States, AIDS has had dramatic effects on young and middle-aged adults.
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Africa remains the most infected region due to an increase in the number of people infected and the high levels of AIDS fatalities. Part of the problem is due to the lack of resources to medication and treatment as well as little education of those infected. Only 30,000 of those infected are receiving treatment. In China, Indonesia, New Guinea and Vietnam, injection drug use and prostitution have contributed to the increasing number of those infected by HIV/AIDS.
In the beginning of the epidemic, many felt that it was "someone else's disease", because the first cases discovered in the United States were all homosexual men. As a result, many in society believed that since only homosexual men were infected, they were not at risk for contracting the disease. People of the church believed that God was punishing individuals for the sinful acts of homosexuality. Government officials isolated those infected and refused to address the issue in public. Little was known about the disease that was affecting millions of people worldwide. Many were afraid to come in contact with a person who had AIDS. Health care workers were reluctant to treat AIDS patients. Some workers began to slide trays of food underneath the door so they would not have to come in contact with an infected patient. Friends and family members of those suffering from AIDS abandoned their loved ones because they were afraid if they got too close they would become infected. No one felt safe and those suffering were destined to live their lives alone.
The ignorance to the dramatic effects of the disease outraged the homosexual community. So friends and family members joined together and demanded for more research and publicity for those infected. Activists approached the Food and Drug Administration to demand access to treatments and experimentation of new medications. The government approved of the access and also began to publish articles about AIDS. Today, the United States government spends $7.5 billion dollars a year on research, prevention, treatment, and care. The government has also set up funds for those directly affected by this horrific disease. Schools around the world are now teaching young children how to protect themselves from AIDS. According to the encyclopedia for AIDS, "every major disease has created no one but two epidemics the disease itself and the effects on society." HIV/AIDS has infected everyone in society regardless of age, gender, and social status.
How did the AIDS epidemic affect so many people around the world so quickly? To determine how this could happen, the facts must be analyzed. HIV, the cause of AIDS, can only be spread through infected blood. A person cannot contract the virus through casual contact such as holding hands, hugging, kissing, and sharing household items.
Next determine how those infected contracted the virus. In 2003, approximately 48% of all cases of HIV/AIDS were infected through sexual contact with an infected partner. During sex, the virus can enter the body through the mucosal linings of the vagina, penis or rectum. When the linings are damaged due to the appearance of STD's (sexually transmitted diseases), the probability of becoming infected increases. The immune system contains dendritic cells that reside in the mucosa and begin the infection process. The infection binds to and carries the virus from the infected area to the lymph nodes. Then the infection begins the replication process spreading the virus throughout the immune system. Another common way of contracting the virus is through injection drug use though sharing needles or syringes with an infected person. A needle only has to be contaminated with a small amount of blood for a person to contract the virus. Finally if not treated with the proper medication, women who are infected with the virus can pass the virus onto her unborn child during labor or pregnancy. Approximately ¼ of all women infected with the virus pass the virus onto their unborn child. When a woman is treated with the antiretroviral drug, AZT, the risk of passing it onto her child significantly decreases.
HIV is a retrovirus that replicates itself inside of cells. HIV belongs to a group of viruses known as lent viruses or "slow viruses." This classification is because of the long periods of time between infection and the onset of more serious illnesses. When HIV enters the body, it starts to multiply and attack the cells of the immune system known as CD4 + T cells. CD4 + T cells are the immune system's primary infection fighters. Over time, the body's CD4 + T cell count gradually declines. A person is diagnosed with AIDS when their CD4 + T cell count drops below 200 per cubic millimeter of blood. An uninfected person has a count between 600 and 1500 per cubic millimeter of blood. When this drop in cell count occurs, patients are prone to develop opportunistic infections that define the AIDS virus. In developing countries where healthcare and technology used to determine a person's CD4 + T cell count is limited, AIDS is diagnosed by the presence of signs associated with immunodeficiency syndrome and the exclusion of other immunosuppression infections such as cancer or malnutrition.
Scientists believe that HIV originated from its equivalent virus, known as simian immunodeficiency syndrome or more commonly SIVcpz, found in chimpanzees. SIVcpz is related to HIV, which mostly appears in human blood. Laboratory tests have found that various SIVcpz strains can infect and replicate themselves with human blood. SIVcpz transferred from chimpanzees to humans in African communities where chimpanzees were hunted for food. Urbanization, introduction of needles, and various aspects of modernization contributed to SIVcpz adapting to human beings (Cohen, 6).
Another group of scientists believe the virus entered humans because of human error. In the late 1950s, scientists began to test a strain of a polio vaccine on people living in South Africa. Some believe that the vaccine might have been made from blood of monkey kidneys that was tainted with the HIV infection. Still, many believe the AIDS epidemic started centuries before the first case was reported in 1981. This theory is possibly true due to the fact that AIDS is not caused by a single disease with a single symptom. Those infected suffer from a variety of illnesses. Thus an increase in the number of viral infections throughout Africa would not have caused any concern. Scientists continue to search for the cause of this horrific disease. Scientists continue to work everyday to find the origin of AIDS with $2 billion a year spent on AIDS research and approximately half of that or $1 million is spent on finding the origin of AIDS.
In the 20 years since the discovery of AIDS, researchers have learned a lot about the virus that has affected so many people. With this better understanding of the virus that causes AIDS, researchers have developed medications that have dramatically reduced the presence of HIV in an infected person's blood stream therefore prolonging their lives. AIDS is still a fairly new disease. There is still much to be learned about the HIV virus and how it leads to AIDS. Effort and money need to be continually dedicated to this research so that treatment, possibly a vaccine, and a cure can be found. With recent technological advancements, doctors are learning more each day. Hopefully one day, doctors will have more answers to allow them to pinpoint the disease that has taken over 40 million lives.