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Newly Diagnosed With HIV

HIV Basics

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Human Immuno-deficiency Virus (HIV) is the virus that causes AIDS.  Thanks to medical breakthroughs, HIV is basically a treatable chronic condition.

HIV attacks your immune system. Immune systems are made up of cells that fight infection and disease. One of the most important of these cells that fights infection is called the CD4 cell. It is also called the "T-helper cell" or T-cell.

  • Once HIV is in the body, it infects CD4 (T-cell) cells and makes copies of itself in these cells. This makes new viruses. These new viruses are let out into the blood and infect other CD4 (T-cell) cells. This process kills the CD4 (T-cell) cells and the CD4 (T-cell) count goes down.
  • As CD4 (T-cell) cells are lost, the immune system becomes weak. This makes it harder for your body to fight certain conditions that do not affect most healthy people. These include opportunistic infections (OIs) such as pneumonia, herpes, tuberculosis, and cancers such as lymphoma and cervical cancer.

Currently there is no known cure for HIV. However, there is a variety of drugs which can usually keep HIV in check.
If left untreated, HIV disease is usually fatal. Once HIV enters the blood stream, it lives in a person's cells. If HIV disease progresses to a certain point, it is known as AIDS. For example, if immune system T cells go below 200 as a result of the HIV infection or the person gets an illness generally associated with AIDS such as Kaposi Sarcoma. 

For the stages of HIV disease, see: offsite link

For information on how HIV damages the immune system, see: offsite link

If you do medical research about HIV/AIDS and read grim facts, keep in mind that: 

  • Statistical information about HIV disease is most likely out of date thanks to ongoing medical advances, including what are known as salvage therapies (therapies to use when first line therapies don't work). 
  • By their nature, statistics only provide a general guide so you can prepare in case the "what ifs" occur. Statistics do not predict what will happen to any individual. .
  • Doing medical research can provoke anxiety and possibly even depression.

Expect to hear lots of advice and stories from friends. Keep in mind that information about what happened to other people is "anecdotal." It is not scientific. What happens to other people is frequently irrelevant to your own experience.

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