A Worldwide Health Threat

Before long, it was recognized that AIDS should be labeled a pandemic because it was not limited to a certain region or country but was truly a worldwide health threat of massive proportions. Since the beginning of the pandemic, several million people around the world have died of AIDS.

Since its discovery, scientists immediately began trying to find the cause of AIDS and to understand how it so severely damages the human immune system. By 1983, French and American teams lead by Dr. Luc Montagnier and Robert Gallo developed a blood test to detect exposure to HIV.

People who have been exposed to the virus, which means that it is in their bodies, are said to be HIV positive, while those who have not been exposed are HIV negative. This is what the standard HIV blood test (or antibody test) reveals. The test tells whether or not your body has begun creating antibodies targeted to fighting HIV. Unfortunately, while the body mounts a strong defense against HIV, it appears that in most cases the body alone cannot successfully defeat the virus.

It is now known that after HIV has entered a person's body, he/she can live for a number of years without having any noticeable symptoms. Individuals in this stage of the disease have HIV infection but not AIDS per se.

AIDS-Related Infections Are Growing

Once an infected individual begins to develop the set of opportunistic infections associated with immune system damage, they are defined medically as having AIDS. In recent years, the number of opportunistic infections known to be associated with AIDS has grown.

Currently, 26 different clinical conditions are used in defining whether or not a person has developed AIDS. Also, as scientists came to recognize how HIV affects the human body, an additional defining feature of AIDS based on the health of the person's immune system was added to a physician's diagnostic guide.

More to Explore