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AIDS is caused by the HIV (Human Immunodeficiency Virus). AIDS is the final and most serious stage of HIV disease . It ischaracterized by signs and symptoms of severe immune deficiency. AIDS stands for acquired immune deficiency syndrome.

AIDS is preceded by HIV infection, which may produce no symptoms for up to 10 years before a person is diagnosed withAIDS. Acute HIV infection progresses over time to asymptomatic HIV infection and later, to advanced HIV diseases or AIDS.In a study of people infected with the HIV virus from 1977 through 1980, some have no signs or symptoms of HIV infection,and some have only enlarged lymph nodes . It is suspected that all persons infected with HIV will, given enough time, progress to AIDS; this theory has not been definitively proven.

Today AIDS is a major health concern, estimates from theWorld Health Organization show more than 500,000 cases of AIDS in the world (considered a low estimate because ofnon-reporting and lack of adequate definition).

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This virus attacks the immune system and leaves the body vulnerable to a variety of life-threatening illnesses. These illnessesare often caused by common bacteria, yeast, and viruses that ordinarily do not cause disease.HIV has been found in blood, semen, saliva, tears, nervous system tissue, breast milk, and female genital tract secretions;however, only blood, semen, female genital tract secretions, and breast milk have been proven to transmit infection to others.Transmission of the virus occurs through sexual contact including oral, vaginal, and anal sex; via blood through transfusions orneedle sharing; and from a pregnant women to the fetus or a nursing mother to her baby. Other transmission methods are rareand include accidental needle injury, artificial insemination through donated semen, and kidney transplantation through thedonated kidney.The infection is NOT spread by casual contact such as hugging and touching, by inanimate objects such as dishes or toilet seats,or by mosquitoes. It is not transmitted TO a person who donates blood (although it can be transmitted from the blood to theperson receiving the transfusion--this is why blood banks screen donors and test the blood thoroughly); it is also not transmittedTO a person who, for example, donates a kidney for transplantation. High risk groups include homosexual or bisexual men, intravenous drug users who share needles, the sexual partners of thosein high risk groups, infants born to mothers with HIV, and persons who received blood transfusions or clotting productsbetween 1977 and 1985 (prior to standard screening for the virus in the blood).The Centers for Disease control (CDC) compile statistics on many different diseases. See the picture for a summary of the AIDSstatistics for U.S. states. HIV carrier rate in the United States now is 1 carrier for every 100 to 200 people.

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Signs & Symptoms
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AIDS is a fatal, incurable, sexually-transmitted disease (STD). It is transmitted by both heterosexual and homosexual practices.Some sexual practices, such as anal intercourse, carry higher risk of transmission than other sexual practices, such as vaginalintercourse. Transmission occurs more readily from an infected man to a woman than from an infected woman to a man.The second most common mode of transmission is by contact with infected blood. Sharing needles when using IV drugs is amajor cause of HIV transmission. This is very common in some states.As more women become infected with HIV, the incidence of fetus HIV infection is increasing. One in three infants born toHIV-infected women will be born HIV positive. Some of these infants test positive only because of maternal antibodies, and willbecome negative by 15 months. Those that do not become negative are actually infected with the virus and will develop AIDS.Breast feeding also transmits the infection to the infant. Mothers who are HIV positive should not breast feed.

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