What is HIV/AIDS. Causes, Risk Factors, Complications and Prevention


Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS) describes the complex fatal clinical condition caused by the Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV). This infection progressively destroys the body’s ability to protect itself from pathogens. It is important to remember that not every HIV infection results to AIDS. That means that HIV infection is just like every other common infection. But it should not be allowed to progress to virulence stage.  Its early detection through close attention to transmission mode and symptoms become critical. Equally essential are its prompt clinical evaluation, management and possible cure. This deadly disease under discussion, affects people of all ages and races. AIDS is considered a pandemic (a disease outbreak present over large areas) and is actively spreading. Since its recognition in 1981, it has caused above 70 million deaths globally as at 2019.


AIDS stands for the Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome. It is caused by Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV).  It is noticeable when the virus has destroyed so much of the body’s defenses. The immune-cell counts fall to critical level that promotes thriving of certain life-threatening opportunistic infections. Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS) describes a critically advanced state of Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) infection. At the stage of AIDS, the Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) infection has progressed. There is significant loss of white blood cells (CD4 cells which define the health of immune system) and immune system damage.

AIDS was first identified clinically among the homosexuals. HIV – the virus that causes AIDS was identified in 1983.

The term AIDS can be described as:

  • A – Acquired – It is not inherited from parents. It is acquired after birth and can be transmitted from mother to child during birth.
  • I – Immune – The body’s immune system include all organs and cells that naturally work together against infections or diseases.
  • D – Deficiency – When the body immune system is “deficient,” it ceases to work the natural way it should against pathogens.
  • S – Syndrome – Collection of associated symptoms and signs of diseases in the body.

Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome is the final stage of HIV infection. People at this stage of HIV infection have badly damaged immune systems with high risk of opportunistic infections. AIDS is diagnosed if there is clinical evidence of one or more specific opportunistic infections, cancers or very low number of CD4 cells. It simply means that HIV/AIDS weakens the immune system. It allows opportunistic infections that should be resisted naturally to attack and destroy human body cells easily.


Many people experiences no symptoms after being infected with Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV). Others have history of flu-like illness within several days to weeks after exposure to the virus. Early HIV symptoms and signs include unexplained fever, sweats (particularly at night) and headache. Tiredness, weight loss, gastrointestinal problems, throat inflammation, rashes, sores of the mouth and genitals are common. Muscle pains and unexplained, non-painful enlargement of more than one group of lymph nodes (other than in the groin) are noticed. Some of these symptoms and signs usually disappear on their own within few weeks. After that, the person feels normal without any untoward symptom of infection. This asymptomatic phase often lasts for years.

The progression of HIV disease varies widely among individuals. This state may last from a few months to more than 10 years. During this period the virus destroys the white blood cell called CD4 cells that are primary infection fighters. Though a person may not have symptoms at this stage but can be contagious, passing HIV to others. Once the CD4 cell count falls to a critical level, an infected person have Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS). Sometimes, the diagnosis of AIDS is made when a person has an unusual infection or cancer symptoms. The symptoms indicate weak or destroyed immune system.


Some of the pronounced and complex symptoms and signs of HIV/AIDS are identified. They include pneumonia caused by Pneumocystis carinii. This causes wheezing, persistent cough that lasts for weeks, producing thin and clear mucus. There is shortness of breath and recurring respiratory tract infections. There is brain infection by toxoplasmosis, a protozoa disease causing troubled- thinking or symptoms that mimic stroke. It is common to experience symptoms of widespread infection with bacteria called mycobacterium avium complex. This causes fever and weight loss (wasting syndrome).  Symptoms associated with yeast infection of the swallowing tube (esophagus) which causes pain when swallowing is observed.

There are widespread symptoms of HIV/AIDS with certain fungi-like histoplasmosis. This causes fever, cough, anemia and other diseases. HIV/AIDS presents signs of lymphoma (a form of cancer of the lymphoid tissue) in the brain. This results to fever and defective mental acuity. Symptoms of cancer of soft tissues called Kaposi’s sarcoma are reported. This presents brown, reddish or purple spots that develop on the skin or in the mouth.

The type of infections that show the symptoms above partly depends on what organisms are common in an environment. These infections may affect nearly every biological system of HIV/AIDS patient.


Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) is transmitted when the virus enters the body through infected cells or semen. HIV infection is spread mostly through having sex with an infected partner. The virus enters the body through the lining of vagina, vulva, penis, rectum or mouth during oral sex. HIV frequently spreads among drug abusers/addicts who share contaminated needles or syringes. Women can transmit HIV to their babies during pregnancy or birth. This occurs when infected maternal cells enter the baby’s circulation or through breast-feeding.

HIV can spread in health-care settings through accidental needle sticks. This exposes healthcare givers to contaminated body fluids (blood cells). HIV can spread through transfusion of contaminated blood or blood components. This possible during surgery, childbirth and treatment of accident victims, anemia and malaria. Also, if tissues or organs from infected persons are transplanted, recipients may acquire HIV. HIV can be transmitted through contact with infected blood-letting instruments such as clippers and razor blades.  People who already have Sexually Transmitted Infections(STI) easily transmit HIV. The STIs are syphilis, genital herpes, chlamydial infection, human papillomavirus, gonorrhea or bacterial vaginosis.

It is very important to know that HIV does not spread through casual contacts. Preparing food, sharing towels, beddings or swimming pools, telephones, toilet seats do not promote transmission. There is no HIV spread through contacts with uncontaminated saliva, mosquitoes or other insects.


Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS) infection has neither cure nor vaccine presently. Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) medications are expensive and associated with serious side effects. Therefore it is very important to avoid certain things that promotes its infection and progression. HIV patients should avoid cigarette smoke/smoking. This habit alters the clinical outcome of antiretroviral therapy resulting to decline in CD4 cells count. People should avoid any form of unprotected sexual intercourse. Any form of accidental needle stick injury or needle-exchange programmes should be avoided. Tattoos, piercings and scarification that may expose the body to HIV infected blood cells should be avoided. People should carefully avoid any form of self-medication.  Avoid unnecessary delays in reporting to expert/designated centres when any or combinations of HIV/AIDS symptoms are noticed.

HIV infection is like every other infection as long as you do not allow it to degenerate to AIDS. Patients should not be ashamed to declare their HIV status. They should willingly submit to timely counseling, management, and monitoring. HIV is mainly transmitted through sexual intercourse. Therefore be faithful to your couple and abstain from unholy intercourse. Carefully maintain healthy lifestyle. If HIV infected, be under expert care. Add to your routine diet, micronutrients obtainable from fruits, vegetables, beans, grains, meats and dairy products.

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