We must first distinguish between AIDS and HIV. When a person is HIV positive that means they have been exposed to the virus that causes AIDS. Human immunodeficiency virus causes HIV infection and AIDS. Someone is said to be HIV positive after they have seroconverted. A diagnosis of AIDS is usually made when the quantifiable number of T helper cells falls below the level of two hundred. Many people who have mere HIV infection lead long, productive lives. The key to longevity depends on early diagnosis and early initiation of proper anti-viral therapy.
Signs and symptoms of AIDS could include: T cell count less than 200, unexplained weight loss, chronic diarrhea, extreme fatigue, anorexia, and even mental status changes. A propensity for infections, both local and systemic are also common. Because the virus that causes AIDS affects the immune system, signs of immunologic compromise may be evident.
AIDS, which stands for acquired immunodeficiency syndrome, is caused when a person becomes infected with human immunodeficiency virus (HIV). HIV seriously weakens the victim's immune system, leaving the body unequipped to fight off a wide range of illnesses.
Once the body is infected with HIV, it takes a long time for full-blown AIDS to develop. The precursor to AIDS is called AIDS-related complex, or ARC. Symptoms of ARC include night sweats, prolonged fevers, severe weight loss, persistent diarrhea, skin rash, persistent cough, and shortness of breath.
Once the disease has progressed from ARC to AIDS, the patient becomes susceptible to a range of opportunistic infections (infections that take advantage of the body's weakened immune system) and unusual cancers. Examples of infections which may be contracted by a person with AIDS include herpes viruses; Candida albicans (fungus); cryptosporidium enterocolitis (protozoan intestinal infection); pneumocystis carinii pneumonia (PCP, a common AIDS lung infection); toxoplasmosis (protozoan brain infection); progressive multifocal leukoencephalopathy (PML, a central nervous system disease causing gradual brain degeneration); and mycobacterium avium intracellulare (MAI, a common generalized bacterial infection).
An example of an AIDS-related cancer is Kaposi's sarcoma, a malignant (life-threatening) skin cancer characterized by blue-red nodules on limbs and body. Kaposi's sarcoma may also affect the gastrointestinal and respiratory tracts, where the tumors cause severe internal bleeding.
The signs of AIDS are generalized swollen glands; emaciation (extreme thinness); blue or purple-brown spots on the body, especially on the legs and arms; prolonged pneumonia; and oral thrush (fungus). At present more than 75 percent of AIDS victims die within two years of diagnosis. However, new treatments are continually being developed which bolster the immune system and slow the progression of the disease.
Sources: Diseases and Disorders Handbook, pp. 11-17; Gong, Victor. AIDS: Facts and Issues, p. 7; Vickery, Donald M., and James F. Fries. Take Care of Yourself: Your Personal Guide to Self-Care PreventingIllness,5th ed., pp. 322-23.