The Battle Against HIV and AIDS
AIDS, an acronym for Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome, is a disease brought about by HIV or the Human Immunodeficiency Virus. It is a kind of illness that alters and debilitates the immune system to the point that people who have AIDS are made that much more vulnerable to diseases and infections. In fact, this susceptibility just worsens as the disease progresses. It has been said that it is not AIDS that kills per se but rather it is the diseases that attack the body when the immune system has been compromised. Bear in mind that HIV and AIDs are not one and the same and have marked differences.
The Differences between AIDS and HIV
- HIV is a virus.
- AIDS is classified as a medical condition.
- HIV is the name given to the virus that attacks T-cells found in the immune system.
- AIDS is a syndrome that develops during advanced stages of HIV infection.
The key to understanding and defeating AIDs is in knowing all the basic truths about it. When you understand AIDS better, it will be easier to understand the quandary scientists are in when it comes to looking for cures and treatment methods.
Where Did the Virus Come From?
The AIDs virus came from monkeys and like a lot of other non-human origin viruses, it mutates at an alarming rate to suit the different environment offered by the human body. The rapid mutations taken by the virus means that it undergoes rapid and dramatic changes. What this means is that an AIDS vaccine developed in 2010 may be useless for people with AIDS in 2014. AIDS is divided into several clades, or groups. Each group has different genetic records though each one will have a geographic center. An effective vaccine against AIDS will need to be effective against all the groups.
The Quest for an AIDS Cure
With all the advances made in science and technology, it makes you wonder why people still have not found a cure for AIDS. Certainly there is no shortage of funds and there are certainly more than enough projects developed for testing and developing AIDS cures. The big question is why is it taking so long? With the millions of people who have died from AIDS and the millions more that are living with the medical condition, why are there no solid breakthroughs?
The reason why it has been so difficult to find a cure or vaccine for AIDS is due to the very nature of the virus itself. A traditional vaccine will work to prevent a disease but will not work to do away with the infection. Take the polio vaccine, it works by introducing antibodies into the system to fight polio when people are exposed to it which means that if you have the vaccine and you are infected with polio, the infection will not get the chance to enter the nervous system and will not affect you. Developing an AIDS vaccine is tricky because it must work to prevent infection in the first place. The reason for this is the body will not be able to learn how to fight AIDS on its own and since the condition directly affects the immune system, the human body will not be able to recognize it and will not have the means to fight it.
The First Breakthrough
Back in the 1980s and the 90s, people who were diagnosed with AIDS were given just months to live but that all changed with the discovery of INN (Zidovudine) or AZT (azidothymidine). INN or AZT is a kind of nucleoside analog reverse transcriptase inhibitor or NRTI which makes it a type of antiretroviral drug used for people who are infected with HIV or have AIDS. What this medicine did was it inhibited the reverse transcriptase (enzyme) used by the HIV virus to synthesize DNA which in turn prevented the condition from getting worse. As it happened, AZT was the first ever treatment approved by the US government and it was marketed under the brand “Retrovir” and what made it so good was that it also represented the first breakthrough in AIDS therapy.
AZT helps to slow the replication of HIV and AIDS in the system but it doesn’t stop it entirely. In fact, due to the adaptive and evolving nature of the condition, people with HIV and AIDS become resistant to HIV over time. AZT is still used as part of HIV/AIDS therapy but is now used with other anti-HIV/AIDS drugs in what is called HAART therapy (highly active antiretroviral therapy).
Other Treatment Options for HIV/AIDS
These days, people have a real fighting chance of living full lives even if they have HIV/AIDS. It is all a matter of getting tested and getting the right treatments. Below are some treatment options available for HIV/AIDS victims today.
- Early HIV antiretroviral treatment – The reason this treatment is so important is that it actually improves the quality and life expectancy of patients. It also helps reduce the risk of transmission to other people.
- Emergency HIV pills – If a person believes that he has been infected with HIV within 3 days (72 hours), a PEP (post exposure prophylaxis) anti-HIV drug can be administered to stop the infection from taking root. It is important to note that this anti-HIV drug works best if it is administered ASAP since it is a demanding treatment that can last up to a month and brings about unpleasant side effects.
- ARV drugs – ARVs are treatments used to not only fight HIV but also to slow down the spread of the virus. Patients who take ARVs with HAART usually have the best results. When it comes to this treatment, it is not a “one size fits all” and the drug combination has to be customized to suit each and every patient.
- Alternative remedies – For every highly scientific cure, you will have people who swear by alternative medicines that include TCM, Ayurveda, etc. These alternative treatments are untested and anyone who opts for them will need to do so under the guidance and direction of a specialist.
Prevention and Cure
To date, there are numerous labs all over the world working on finding a cure for HIV/AIDS. One example is “gene therapy.” This is something people hope will work as a functional cure for HIV/AIDS. There have also been reports of a baby born with HIV that became HIV negative after being given ARVs ASAP. However, until there becomes a certified cure for HIV/AIDS, governments and health groups are placing an emphasis on prevention instead. After all, it is a time-tested adage and it is just as important to stop the spread of HIV/AIDS as it is to find a cure.
However, recent efforts by NGOs and the WHO have shown a marked improvement in the number of people who succumb to the disease and a decrease in the number of hospitalizations. Indeed, there might not yet be a certified cure for HIV/AIDS now but this doesn’t mean that scientists are giving up either. This does not mean though that people can afford to become complacent since this is just the start of an uphill battle to finally subdue the HIV/AIDS pandemic, but people are hopeful nonetheless that with continued research, study, and testing, HIV and AIDS might just become things of the past and will no longer plague future generations.