Just Found Out? : What's happening to my body? - by Staff

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Back to home » HIV 101 » Just Found Out?

Table of Contents

Just Found Out?

Why me?

Where can I go for support?

Will I die?

Who do I tell?

Who will want me?

What's happening to my body?

How do I get the care I need?

What lab tests should I take?

Will treatment work?

Will I start treatment?

HIV Clinics for Teens

What You're Talking About
Losing Hope (blog) (20 comments)

You Can't Hurry Love (14 comments)

I Watched Charlie Sheen on The Dr. Oz Show So You Don't Have To (blog) (14 comments)

Charlie Sheen S&%ts On 30 Years of AIDS Activism (blog) (13 comments)

Remember Their Names: World AIDS Day 2015 (blog) (12 comments)

Prudential to Offer Individual Life Insurance to People With HIV (7 comments)
Most Popular Lessons

The HIV Life Cycle


Herpes Simplex Virus

Syphilis & Neurosyphilis

Treatments for Opportunistic Infections (OIs)

What is AIDS & HIV?

Hepatitis & HIV


What's happening to my body?

by Staff

HIV 101

HIV is the Human Immunodeficiency Virus.

Human refers to you.

Immunodeficiency refers to the way HIV reduces your body’s ability to fight other diseases.

Virus 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 virus-producing factory.

HIV 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.

Without 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.)

How 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).  

If 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 Syndrome.

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