World AIDS Day 2014

December 1, first declared World AIDS Day in 1995, is dedicated to raising awareness of the AIDS pandemic caused by the spread of HIV infection. A number of celebrities have lent their time and name to addressing the needs of the worldwide HIV community. Superstar Elton John began the Elton John AIDS Foundation. Since 1992, the organization has raised over over $125 millions to support educational programs targeted at HIV/AIDS prevention, the elimination of prejudice and discrimination against HIV/AIDS-affected individuals, and for programs that provide services to people living with or at risk for HIV/AIDS. U2’s Bono not only shows his fervent activism on behalf of debt relief for African nations, but also in his efforts to raise awareness about the uncontrolled spread of AIDS there. Singer Alicia Keys, after witnessing firsthand the ravages of HIV/AIDS in Africa, became an ardent supporter of the organization Keep a Child Alive.

Other celebrity supporters include: Rihanna, Chris Brown, Miley Cyrus , Whoopi Goldberg, Angelina Jolie, Brad Pitt, Lady Gaga, Kim Kardashian, George Clooney, Ellen Degeneres, Justin Timberlake, Chris Brown and Victoria Beckham.

The theme for 2014 – “Focus, Partner, Achieve: An AIDS-Free Generation” – reflects the drive to focus on interventions that work and partner with a broad range of stakeholders to achieve control of the epidemic and move closer to an AIDS-free generation.

What Is HIV? (Source: CDC)

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“HIV” stands for Human Immunodeficiency Virus. To understand what that means, let’s break it down:

H – Human – This particular virus can only infect human beings.
I – Immunodeficiency – HIV weakens your immune system by destroying important cells that fight disease and infection. A “deficient” immune system can’t protect you.
V – Virus – A virus can only reproduce itself by taking over a cell in the body of its host.

HIV is a lot like other viruses, including those that cause the “flu” or the common cold. But there is an important difference – over time, your immune system can clear most viruses out of your body. That isn’t the case with HIV – the human immune system can’t seem to get rid of it. That means that once you have HIV, you have it for life.

We know that HIV can hide for long periods of time in the cells of your body and that it attacks a key part of your immune system – your T-cells or CD4 cells. Your body has to have these cells to fight infections and disease, but HIV invades them, uses them to make more copies of itself, and then destroys them.

Over time, HIV can destroy so many of your CD4 cells that your body can’t fight infections and diseases anymore. When that happens, HIV infection can lead to AIDS, the final stage of HIV infection.

However, not everyone who has HIV progresses to AIDS. With proper treatment, called “antiretroviral therapy” (ART), you can keep the level of HIV virus in your body low. ART is the use of HIV medicines to fight HIV infection. It involves taking a combination of HIV medicines every day. These HIV medicines can control the virus so that you can live a longer, healthier life and reduce the risk of transmitting HIV to others. Before the introduction of ART in the mid-1990s, people with HIV could progress to AIDS in just a few years. Today, a person who is diagnosed with HIV and treated before the disease is far advanced can have a nearly normal life expectancy.

No safe and effective cure for HIV currently exists, but scientists are working hard to find one, and remain hopeful.

What Is AIDS?

what-is-hiv-aids-3“AIDS” stands for Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome. To understand what that means, let’s break it down:

A – Acquired – AIDS is not something you inherit from your parents. You acquire AIDS after birth.
I – Immuno – Your body’s immune system includes all the organs and cells that work to fight off infection or disease.
D – Deficiency – You get AIDS when your immune system is “deficient,” or isn’t working the way it should.
S – Syndrome – A syndrome is a collection of symptoms and signs of disease. AIDS is a syndrome, rather than a single disease, because it is a complex illness with a wide range of complications and symptoms.

As noted above, AIDS is the final stage of HIV infection, and not everyone who has HIV advances to this stage. People at this stage of HIV disease have badly damaged immune systems, which put them at risk for opportunistic infections (OIs).

You are considered to have progressed to AIDS if you have one or more specific OIs, certain cancers, or a very low number of CD4 cells. If you have AIDS, you will need medical intervention and treatment to prevent death.

How Do You Get HIV or AIDS?

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Signs and Symptoms

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US Statistics

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Fast Facts

  • More than 1.2 million people in the United States are living with HIV infection, and almost 1 in 7 (14%) are unaware of their infection.
  • Gay, bisexual, and other men who have sex with men (MSMa), particularly young black/African American MSM, are most seriously affected by HIV.
  • By race, blacks/African Americans face the most severe burden of HIV.

Global Statistics

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Michele R. Berman, M.D. was Clinical Director of The Pediatric Center, a private practice on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C. from 1988-2000, and was named Outstanding Washington Physician by Washingtonian Magazine in 1999. She was a medical internet pioneer having established one of the first medical practice websites in 1997. Dr. Berman also authored a monthly column for Washington Parent Magazine.

1 Comment

  1. Sajani Patel

    December 3, 2014 at 10:47 pm

    While only 1 million people in the United States have HIV/AIDS, it is still a disease that very negatively affects large numbers of people around the world. World AIDS Day is an important reminder of the fact that disease is still ongoing, especially in developing countries. Even thought the epidemic started over thirty years ago in the United States, there are still some misconceptions about the disease. In 2009, the Kaiser Family Foundation surveyed over 1000 Americans and found that although knowledge of HIV transmission and the disease in general is increasing there are still many misconceptions regarding HIV. For example, about one-third of those surveyed thought that HIV could be transmitted by sharing a drinking glass with someone who is HIV-positive (it can’t!) and about one in four surveyed thought that there was a vaccine that can be taken to prevent HIV (there isn’t!). In addition to these misconceptions there are also many negative stigmas associated with the disease.

    Notably, this survey also found that 62% of people got their HIV/AIDS information from the media (radio, TV, newspapers, and the internet) while only 17% got their information from their doctor or a healthcare professional. Thus, the media has a greater effect on a person’s health than we may realize. It is important for doctors and healthcare professionals to reach out to their patients and the general public via many different channels. I’m sure that HIV isn’t the only disease where there are still so many misconceptions and such a lack of knowledge regarding the disease. Finding different ways to reach and educate the public is going to be key while moving forward. We are becoming more media and technology oriented so keeping up with this rapid shift may be a challenge. Grey’s Anatomy did present some information about spreading HIV while pregnant in a short clip and another Kaiser survey found that even just watching the few minutes did increase people’s long-term knowledge about HIV transmission while pregnant. While I do not think we are going to stop watching TV anytime soon, there is a large part of the population that does not regularly watch TV show. Appealing to these people using other media forms to educate and inform about health and disease is a public health challenge that must be addressed. I appreciate doctors who are not using social media outlets such as Twitter and Facebook because they are appealing to a new demographic of younger, tech-savvy people while providing factual information. Additionally, this is why websites like CelebrityDiagnosis are so important. They provide factual and accurate information to the public while making it interesting and relatable.

    However, it is important to remember that presenting accurate information is key. While no one would willingly present false information, this is just something to be cognizant of when using media, especially as its reach continues to grow. While media can be a blessing for presenting factual information to large amounts of people, it can also be a curse if false information is quickly propagated through it.

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