World AIDS Vaccine Day: What is AIDS, how does it spread and why is it dreaded?

Vikas SV

New Delhi, May 18: Today is World AIDS Vaccine Day which is observed to acknowledge and thank thousands of researchers who are tirelessly working towards developing a vaccine for Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome (AIDS) for which there is no cure as of now. The also highlights the urgent need for a vaccine to prevent HIV infection and AIDS.

The concept of World AIDS Vaccine Day is rooted in a May 18, 1997 commencement speech at Morgan State University made by then United States President Bill Clinton. "Only a truly effective, preventive HIV vaccine can limit and eventually eliminate the threat of AIDS," Clinton had said on that day.

The purpose of this day is also to spread awareness among people about HIV.

What is AIDS?

Human immunodeficiency virus infection and acquired immune deficiency syndrome (HIV/AIDS) is a spectrum of conditions caused by infection with the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV). Following initial infection, a person may not notice any symptoms or may experience a brief period of influenza-like illness. Typically, this is followed by a prolonged period with no symptoms. As the infection progresses, it interferes more with the immune system, increasing the risk of developing common infections such as tuberculosis, as well as other opportunistic infections, and tumors that rarely affect people who have working immune systems. These late symptoms of infection are referred to as acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS).

Why is awareness about AIDS important?

Significant progress has been made in the AIDS response since 1988, and today three in four people living with HIV know their status. But still 9.4 million people aren't aware that they're HIV-positive as they haven't been tested. This also raises the risk of the illness spreading unknowingly on account of unprotected sex. Unfortunately, many barriers to HIV testing remain. Stigma and discrimination still deters people from taking an HIV test. Access to confidential HIV testing is still an issue of concern. Many people still only get tested after becoming ill and symptomatic.

How does AIDS spread?

HIV is spread primarily by unprotected sex (including anal and oral sex), contaminated blood transfusions, hypodermic needles, and from mother to child during pregnancy, delivery, or breastfeeding. Some bodily fluids, such as saliva and tears, do not transmit HIV. Methods of prevention include safe sex, needle exchange programs, treating those who are infected, and male circumcision.

[World AIDS Day 2018: Theme, Significance, AIDS Treatment, awareness]

Disease in a baby can often be prevented by giving both the mother and child antiretroviral medication. There is no cure or vaccine; however, antiretroviral treatment can slow the course of the disease and may lead to a near-normal life expectancy. Treatment is recommended as soon as the diagnosis is made. Without treatment, the average survival time after infection is 11 years.

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