Acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS) is the most advanced stage of the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV). People may become infected with HIV through sexual intercourse, sharing of hypodermic needles and from mother to child through child birth. HIV is spread through the transfer of bodily fluids including blood, semen, vaginal fluids or breast milk. HIV targets the cells of the immune system and interferes with the body's ability to fight other infections or disease.
CD4 cells are white blood cells that are destroyed by HIV. A normal CD4 cell count in a healthy adult is between 500 and 1200. An HIV infection progresses to AIDS when the CD4 white blood cell count is less than 200. People with AIDS usually have regular blood tests to check their CD4 white blood cell count.
In most cases, especially without any treatment, the HIV infection will eventually progress to AIDS over time. People infected with AIDS are extremely susceptible to developing infections and may have the following symptoms:
- Extreme weight loss
- Night sweats
Patients with AIDS may often have a rash or swollen lymph glands.
There is no cure for AIDS, although HIV is often treated with various medications to slow the progression of the disease. When HIV has progressed to AIDS, treatment may focus on pain management and palliative care. Medicines may be prescribed to treat AIDS related problems such as anemia, low white blood cell count and to prevent infection. Counseling and support groups can also benefit people suffering from AIDS.