HIV/AIDS is a medical condition. A person is diagnosed with AIDS when their immune system is too weak to fight off infections. Since AIDS was first identified in the early 1980s, an unprecedented number of people have been affected by the global AIDS epidemic. Today, there are an estimated 33 million people living with HIV/AIDS.
What causes AIDS?
AIDS is caused by HIV. HIV is a virus that gradually attacks immune system cells. As HIV progressively damages these cells, the body becomes more vulnerable to infections, which it will have difficulty in fighting off. It is at the point of very advanced HIV infection that a person is said to have AIDS. It can be years before HIV has damaged the immune system enough for AIDS to develop. What are the symptoms of AIDS? A person is diagnosed with AIDS when they have developed an AIDS-related condition or symptom, called an opportunistic infection, or an AIDS-related cancer. The infections are called ‘opportunistic’ because they take advantage of the opportunity offered by a weakened immune system. It is possible for someone to be diagnosed with AIDS even if they have not developed an opportunistic infection. AIDS can be diagnosed when the number of immune system cells (CD4 cells) in the blood of an HIV positive person drops below a certain level.