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Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome, or AIDS, is a disease of the immune system caused by HIV (Human Immunodeficiency Virus.) AIDS is defined as a syndrome, which means there are a group of health problems that make up this disease. Being infected with HIV progressively reduces the ability of the immune system to fight these infections. Eventually, these viruses, fungi and bacterial infections make a person very ill and at this stage they are said to have AIDS. There is no cure for AIDS, but antiretroviral therapy (ART) can slow down the HIV virus and also slow down damage to the immune system. The group of viruses, bacterial infections and fungi that cause sickness are referred to as opportunistic infections (O Is). Some O Is are very difficult to treat, but newer drugs prevent and treat these infections and work very well. AIDS research and clinical trials are focusing on new therapies, drugs and treatments to prevent or delay the complications of HIV-related disorders.

Although there is no cure for AIDS, the transmission of HIV is preventable. HIV is transmitted through direct contact with bodily fluids, such as blood, semen, vaginal fluid, preseminal fluid and breast milk. Therefore, HIV is contracted by sexual contact, sharing of contaminated hypodermic needles, exchange between mother and baby during pregnancy, breastfeeding or other exchange of body fluids. Prevention is key to controlling the spread of HIV and AIDS. Health organizations promote safe sex (mainly through use of condoms,) and needle exchange programs in attempts to slow the spread of the virus.

The World Health Organization developed a staging system in 1990 for patients infected with HIV, and updated the system in 2005.

Stage I - HIV infection is asymptomatic and not categorized as AIDS.
Stage II- includes minor mucocutaneous manifestations and recurrent upper respiratory tract infections.
Stage III- includes unexplained chronic diarrhea for longer than a month, severe bacterial infections and pulmonary tuberculosis.
Stage IV- includes toxoplasmosis of the brain, candidiasis of the esophagus, trachea, bronchi or lungs and Kaposi's sarcoma; these diseases are indicators of AIDS.


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