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HIV stands for Human Immunodeficiency Virus, and it is the virus that causes AIDS. Unlike most viruses, like the common cold or flu, our immune systems cannot fight HIV. Once a patient is infected, they carry the virus for life.
HIV replicates in and then kills T-cells, a key player in our immune systems. If HIV destroys enough of these host cells, the immune system can no longer fight off basic infections and illnesses. Once an HIV-positive patient begins to suffer from opportunistic infections and diseases, like chronic dysentery, osteoporosis or skin infections, that patient is considered to have AIDS.
Even with treatment, patients living with HIV still experience higher rates of certain non-communicable disease (NCDs) as they age. Common NCDs include heart disease, diabetes and arthritis; these conditions affect multiple body systems from pulmonary and cardiovascular failures to disorders of the nervous systems. Aside from a compromised immune system, these conditions may also be caused by the antiretrovirals prescribed to treat them.
Currently there is no cure for AIDS. However, many treatments allow HIV-positive patients to live long and healthy lives. As long as a patient has access to treatment, AIDS is not the death sentence it was thought to be in the early years of the crisis. In most developed countries, treatment is accessible at reasonable cost. To date, over 20 of the most powerful combination therapies have been approved by the FDA, though these drugs are not available everywhere.