Immunodeficiency refers to the way HIV reduces your body’s ability to fight other diseases.
refers to the kind of organism that is now inside you. These do only
one thing, and with blind efficiency: they make copies of themselves.
They don’t split in two or make baby viruses. They use us—our bodies—as
their raw material. In a way, a virus is nothing more than a packaged
set of instructions. When this package gets inside a human cell, it
takes over the cell’s normal function and turns it into a
is a uniquely sneaky and destructive virus because the cells it targets
are the very cells that usually defend the body against viruses.
The answer against this sneak attack?
In the long term,
for those already infected, it would be a cure—something to completely
disarm the virus and clear it from your system once and for all. For
those who are uninfected, it would be a vaccine that would get the
immune system to recognize the invaders before they started taking
over. While researchers are working toward both a cure and a vaccine,
no one knows when, or even if, they will find either.
In the short term,
what we have are drugs that do a great job at keeping HIV from making
copies of itself—and eventually destroying the immune system.
Unfortunately, the drugs don’t keep working forever.
treatment, HIV infection generally leads to a gradual decline in your
ability to fight other diseases. This decline can be charted by
measuring the number of CD4 cells you have. (Check out What Lab Tests
Should I Take? on the menu at your right for more about CD4 cells.)
long this takes varies enormously from person to person; it averages 10
years or so, although one in 100 remains fit 20 years after infection
(and scientists are very interested in finding out why).
your CD4 count falls below a certain limit, you’ll risk getting one or
more of a characteristic crop of illnesses. (HIV doesn’t cause many
symptoms in itself; it weakens your immune system and that lets other
illnesses in to do the job themselves.) A group of illnesses that point
to an underlying cause is called a syndrome. And that’s what AIDS is—it’s the Acquired (meaning you can catch it) Immune Deficiency