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AIDS - Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome

What is AIDS?

AIDS is an immune system disorder in which the body's ability to defend itself is greatly diminished. When human immunodeficiency virus (HIV, the virus that cause AIDS) invades key white blood (immune) cells called T lymphocytes and multiplies, it causes a breakdown in the body's immune system, eventually leading to overwhelming infection or cancer and, ultimately death. Most deaths among people with AIDS are not caused by AIDS itself, but by one of the many infections or cancers to which the syndrome makes the body vulnerable. Essentially, AIDS is experienced as a series of various illnesses made possible by the initial HIV infection. It is a monumental modern medical plague.

The origin of HIV is unknown. The earliest documented case of AIDS appeared in 1981; however, researchers acknowledge that there may have been unidentified cases in the 1970s. Some investigators have wondered if HIV might be a genetically engineered virus gone awry. Whatever its Origin, HIV is a type of virus known as a retrovirus that is spread primarily through sexual or blood-to-blood contact, such as occurs with the sharing of needles by intravenous drug users. It can also be spread by blood transfusion (now rare) or the use of blood products such as clotting factors, if the blood used for these purposes is infected. Hemophiliacs, who require a specific coagulation factor from blood concentrates, have historically been especially vulnerable to HIV.

In the United States, as well as in many other parts of the world, blood is routinely screened for the presence of HIV antibodies, the warning sign of HIV infection. It is possible HIV-infected blood may occasionally pass through the careful screening processes. HIV antibodies may not appear in the blood for as much as three to six months after a person is infected, so their presence in blood taken from a person who contracted the virus recently may not be detectable. Blood products are now subjected to heat to destroy the virus, although some AIDS advocates raise concerns that this process may not be 100-percent effective. Still, according to the American Association of Blood Banks, only 1 in 676,000 recipients currently become infected by HIV through blood transfusions.

It is possible for dentists and medical workers who come into close contact with the bodily fluids of infected persons to become infected under certain conditions. This is why paramedics, emergency medical technicians, dentists and dental hygienists, hospital and clinic employees, emergency room personnel, and law enforcement officers wear rubber gloves to prevent contact with blood products or saliva. The practice of wearing gloves also protects patients.

Babies of mothers with HIV can contract the virus during pregnancy or birth, or through breastfeeding, although this is not inevitable. In fact, statistics indicate that most such babies do not contract the virus themselves. A Surgeon General' s report on HIV and AIDS estimated about 25 per­cent of these babies do become infected, either before or during birth. Scientists do not know what factors influence whether or not a child will become infected but are working diligently to find the answers. It is known that the use of drug therapy during pregnancy plus bottle-feeding after birth may dramatically decrease the likelihood of mother­to-baby transmission.

Many people who are infected with HIV are not even aware that they have it. While some people experience a mild flu like illness within two to four weeks of exposure to the virus, it generally takes at least two to five years before any symptoms of HIV infection appear. The length of time between an initial HIV infection and a positive diagnosis of AIDS has been estimated to be between two and ten years or more. The virus does not lie dormant during this time, however. Instead, it immediately attacks the immune system. The virus quickly begins producing a billion copies of itself each day, which in turn forces the human immune system to produce the same number of antibodies as an attempted defense against the introducers. Year after year, the body struggles to beat the virus until finally, its overworked immune system simply wears out and AIDS results.

In many cases, the first symptoms of HIV and AIDS are nonspecific and variable. One of the most common is a tongue coated with white bumps. This is oral thrush, or candidiasis. Candidiasis indicates a compromised immune system. Intestinal parasites are another common problem. Other possible symptoms include :

  • Prolonged, unexplained fatigue.
  • Swollen glands (lymph nodes).
  • Unexplained fever lasting more than ten days.
  • Excessive sweating (especially at night).
  • Mouth lesions, including thrush and painful, swollen gums.
  • Sore throat.
  • Cough.
  • Shortness of breath.
  • Changes in bowel habits, including constipation.
  • Frequent diarrhea.
  • Symptoms of a specific opportunistic infection.
  • Tumor (Kaposi's sarcoma).
  • Skin rashes or lesions of various types.
  • Unintentional weight loss.
  • General discomfort or uneasiness (malaise).
  • Headache.

Additional symptoms that may be associated with HIV and/ or AIDS include speech impairment, memory loss, joint swelling, joint pain, bone pain or tenderness, a lump or lumps in the groin, blurred vision, genital sores, muscle atrophy, decreasing intellectual function, joint stiffness, unusual or strange behavior, anxiety, stress, tension, pruritus (generalized itching), sensitivity to light, decreased vision or blindness, blind spots in the field of vision, and chest pain.

No one should assume he or she is infected with HIV just because he or she has one or more of the above symptoms. These symptoms can be related to many illnesses, so being tested for HIV is the only way to be sure. This can be done by a doctor or with a home HIV testing kit. Simple to perform, this test requires a very small blood sample, obtained by pricking a fingertip. The sample is mailed to a laboratory, which analyzes it and offers a diagnosis by telephone in a matter of days.

Testing HIV-positive does not mean that one has AIDS. Rather, it means that one has been exposed to HIV, as demonstrated by the presence in the blood of antibodies to the virus. However, a confirmed positive HIV test result is often the earliest indication that the person may eventually develop AIDS. The medical criteria for a diagnosis of full­blown AIDS are quite specific, requiring the presence of one or more opportunistic infections or cancers known to be associated with HIV infection. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), these include:

  • Pneumoncystis carinii pneumonia.
  • Candidal esophagitis, esophagitis from herpes simplex or cytomegalo virus.
  • Cryptosporidiosis of the intestine for more than four weeks.
  • Primary lymphoma of the central nervous system.
  • Kaposi's sarcoma.
  • Herpes simplex ulcers, extensive in location, lasting for more than one month.
  • Toxoplasmosis of the brain.

While this list is not all-inclusive, these are the more common AIDS-defining illnesses. Pneumocystis carinii pneumonia alone accounts for over 50 percent of initial AIDS-defining conditions.

Information on the risk factors for AIDS

Since the beginning of the epidemic in the 1980s, a number of health conditions and lifestyle factors have been identified that increase an individual's risk of contracting HIV and developing AIDS. The more factors present, the greater the risk. They include the following: Overuse of certain drugs, especially antibiotics and steroids.

  • High-risk sexual activity.
  • Substance abuse, including the use of alcohol, cigarettes, cocaine, amyl nitrate, marijuana, and other recreational drugs, especially intravenous drug use.
  • Preexisting herpes infection, hepatitis, or mononucleosis.
  • Preexisting sexually transmitted disease, especially syphilis.
  • A diet high in processed foods, refined sugars, and fat.
  • Infection with yeast (Candida albicans) or parasites.

Natural home remedies for the treatment of AIDS

  • Aloe vera contains carrisyn, which appears to inhibit the growth and spread of HIV. Take 2 cups twice daily. Use a pure, food grade product. If diarrhea occurs reduce the dosage.
  • St. John's wort contains two substances, hypericin and pseuclohypericin, that inhibit retroviral infections and could be useful in the treatment of AIDS.
  • Magnolia vine berries increase oxygen absorption and boost the immune system. They coordinate the activities of the internal organs and help control the balance of the body's physiological processes.
  • Hyperbaric oxygen therapy is sometimes used, together with medications and other treatments, to help over­ come opportunistic infections associated with AIDS.
  • Ginkgo biloba extract is good for the brain cells and circulation.
  • Increase your intake of fresh fruits and vegetables. Eat a diet consisting of 75 percent raw foods, organically grown if possible (avoid foods that have been treated with pesticides and other sprays), plus lentils, beans, seeds, nuts, and whole grains, including brown rice and millet, and also non­acid-forming fruit such as bananas, all berries, peaches, apples, and melons. Raw foods are particularly important because cooking depletes foods of their vital enzymes.
  • Black radish, dandelion root, and silymarin (milk thistle extract) protect and aid in repairing the liver, and also cleanse the bloodstream. The liver is the organ of detoxification and must function optimally. Use these extracts as directed on the product labels.
  • Cat's claw enhances immune function, and has been shown to be helpful for people with AIDS and AIDS-related cancers. Cat's Claw Defense Complex from Source Naturals is a combination of cat's claw and other herbs, plus antioxidants such as beta-catotene, N-acetylcysteine, vitamin C, and zinc. Caution: Do not use cat's claw during pregnancy.

Prevention tips for AIDS

  • Do not smoke, and stay away from those who do.
  • Avoid alcohol, noxious chemicals, and anything else that can damage the liver.
  • Always use a condom (latex, not sheepskin) and spennicide (spermicide kills HIV) for any sexual contact. If you use a lubricant with a latex condom, use only a water-based lubricant such as K- Y jelly. Do not use petroleum jelly (Vaseline), vegetable shortening (Crisco), hand lotion, or baby oil, as these substances can break down latex in a matter of minutes. Be aware, however, that even the proper use of a condom is not a guarantee against the transmission of HIV.
  • Food poisoning can be very dangerous for people with HIV or AIDS infection
  • Eat unripened papaya (including a few of the seeds), fresh pineapple, and Aspergillus oryzae (a type of fungus) frequently. These foods are good sources of proteolytic enzymes, which are crucial for proper digestion of foods and assimilation of nutrients. Without enzymes, the body cannot be supplied with the energy it needs for its activities. Enzymes can also be taken in supplement form. These help in digestion in the lower stomach and intestinal tract.
  • Educate yourself. HIV and AIDS are complicated con­ditions, and treatment options are constantly changing and expanding. In order to stay well, it is vital to be as informed as possible.
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