HIV/AIDS: Still Alive and Spreading
After nearly30 years scientists are still puzzling over when and how AIDS (acquired immune deficiency syndrome) and HIV(Human immunodeficiency virus) in humans began. The virus and disease are often referred to together as HIV/AIDS. Since it first came to light in the early 1980s it has been argued it was spread by everything from chimpanzees to conspiracy theories. So, where did AIDS come from? Researchers generally agree it seems very likely Africa was where the transfer of HIV to humans first occurred.
But what happened next? It seems a number of gay men in California and New York suddenly began developing infections and cancers that wouldn’t respond satisfactorily to any known treatments. It was glaringly apparent all were suffering from the same illness, but at the time AIDS didn’t have a name.
HIV was discovered shortly afterwards and found to be the missing link. AIDS is the end result ofthe Human Immunodeficiency Virus, so it becomes necessary to find where the HIV came from and its effect on infected individuals and what it is. HIV is classified as a Lentivirus.
Lentiviruses attack the immune system and are part of a larger group known as retoviruses. The name means “slow virus” because they take such a long time before adverse effects are recognized.
These viruses have been found ina variety of animals, including cats, sheep, horses and cattle. However, the one which most interests researchers is the Simian Immunodeficiency Virus (SIV) that affects monkeys and believed to have been around for over 30,000 years. The medical community now generally accepts HIV came from a strain of SIV.
The next question is obviously how did the virus transfer to a different species, namely humans?When a viral transfer between animals and humans takes place, it is known as zoonosis. Its’ been common knowledge among scientists for some time certain viruses can pass between species. And there are many theories on how this might have happened. The most common scenario has been called the “hunter” theory. This theory hypothesizes hunters ate monkeys as food or their blood got into their blood stream through a cut or open sore.
However, there are more controversial theories. Like HIV may have been transferred via polio vaccine testing during the late 1950s in the Belgian Congo, Ruanda and Urundi. Live polio vaccine needs to be cultivated in living tissue and it’s thought the vaccine was grown in kidney cells taken from chimps having an SIV, resulting in large numbers of people getting infected. But many experts don’t buy this theory.
A more readily accepted explanation is the “Contaminated Needle Theory.” Disposable plastic syringes became widely used when they hit the market in the 1950s. But in Africa during that time the number of inoculations being done swamped the medical facilities and the cost would still have been unaffordable.
Therefore, it’s very likely they used syringes more than once without sterilizing them. Based on the hunter theory, all it would have taken is for one infected hunter to be given an inoculation and then using the same syringe on the next patient.
And of course, there is the inevitable conspiracy theory. This theory holds the AIDS epidemic was man made at least according to a survey recently done in the United States. The survey revealed many African Americans are convinced HIV was developed for use as a biological weapon to exterminate blacks and homosexuals. However, there is no solid evidence to support this claim. Most “evidence” offered is based upon conjecture, supposition and speculation.
Although AIDS and HIV are not front page news anymore, doesn’t mean they have gone away. It’s still is a major health problem in many parts of the world. In fact, it is considered a pandemic. A pandemic is an outbreak occurring over a large area and still spreading. A few years ago the World Health Organization (WHO) estimated there were:
· Over 33 million HIV people infected worldwide
· Nearly 3 million new HIV infections per year
· Over 2 million annual deaths due to AIDS
To date there is still no cure, although new medical advances have managed to slow its’ effects down. However, these drugs are expensive and not available some countries. Prevention is still the main goal infection in controlling the pandemic. Health professionals have seen some success with promoting safe sex and instituting needle exchange programs.