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Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS) is a collection of opportunistic diseases that almost inevitably lead to death when untreated. AIDS has been conclusively demonstrated to be caused by long-term infection with the Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV), except for HIV denialists (who deny that HIV causes AIDS, or that HIV even exists). In short, HIV suppresses the body's defenses against infection, leaving it vulnerable to just about anything that attempts to invade.



According to the Centers for Disease Control's 1993 guidelines,[1][2] AIDS is defined as an HIV infection plus any of the following:

  • CD4 count (i.e., CD4 T lymphocytes count or T-cell count) less than 200 per microlitre blood, or
  • CD4 percentage less than 14% of total lymphocytes, or
  • any of the following illnesses: pulmonary TB, recurrent pneumonia, invasive cervical cancer, or
  • expanded definition including 23 clinical conditions published elsewhere.

The World Health Organization uses a different staging method for HIV disease.[3]


Main symptoms of acute HIV infection

After infection with HIV, the virus quickly replicates in lymphatic tissue and travels through the blood to infect most areas of the body. The largest consequence of this is the "hijacking" of certain immune cells (any that express the protein CD4, which is the target of the viral antigen), especially so-called Helper-T cells, or CD4+ (CD4 positive) cells. The virus capsid contains two proteins, called Reverse Transcriptase and DNA Integrase, along with the viral strand of RNA. Reverse Transcriptase performs reverse transcription on the viral RNA, thus converting it into DNA, and DNA Integrase then "injects" the viral DNA into the host DNA in the cell nucleus.[4] One of the primary methods of control in HIV-positive patients is therefore Reverse Transcriptase Inhibitors (RTIs).[5]

Early in the infection, the immune system holds the infection at bay, often causing "Acute Retroviral Syndrome," a flu-like illness. Patients often have swollen lymph nodes. After approximately 8–10 years of infection, the immune system begins to lose its battle. This is primarily seen in the loss of numbers of CD4+ cells, however the changes are somewhat more complex. When the CD4+ cell level drops low enough, AIDS becomes apparent. The first symptoms of the illness are generally night sweats, weight loss, and oral thrush.


HIV is transmitted by exchange of precious bodily fluids, especially when direct exposure of the bloodstream is involved. Sex is the most common mode of transmission due to the frequency of events, though it's not the most dangerous single event. A direct blood transfusion has a well over 90% chance of infection, which is why blood donations are heavily screened and tested. Sharing a dirty needle has a much lower chance at .63% per event, but much like sex, heroin is rarely a one-time event. There's almost no chance of transmission with proper condom use. Unprotected sexual intercourse, however, varies wildly by act. There's a .04% chance of transmission for vaginal insertive (as in, the chance to acquire HIV from an infected partner being on the receiving end of vaginal intercourse), .08% vaginal receptive, .11% anal insertive, and 1.38% for anal receptive per act. Oral, receptive or insertive, has a less than .01% chance of transmission.[6][note 1]

Notably, anyone on the receiving end of both vaginal and anal gets the short end of the stick when it comes to HIV, and almost all other STDs for that matter. If you are receiving from someone other than a longterm partner, please insist on proper protection. If they don't care enough about your safety to wear a condom, dump them.

There is no effective vaccine for HIV specifically. However, there are indirect effects from other vaccines. HIV transmission is much more likely when other diseases such as HPV or Hepatitis are present. Being vaccinated against those reduces the chance of HIV transmission, even if slightly.

Opportunistic Infections (OIs)[edit]

The hallmark of AIDS is the appearance of opportunistic infections, meaning infections with organisms that do not usually cause human disease, unless given the right "opportunity". This opportunity is the reduction in cell-mediated immunity, first seen in patients with certain cancers or on anti-rejection drugs for organ transplantation.

These infections include:

  • Pneumocystis jiroveci, previously Pneumocystis carinii
  • Candida albicans (the cause of thrush and vaginal yeast infections)
  • Staphylococcus aureus (primarily causes skin infections)
  • Toxoplasma gondii
  • Cytomegalovirus
  • Streptococcus pneumoniae (the primary cause of pneumonia in AIDS patients)
  • Mycobacterium tuberculosis (TB)
  • Mycobacterium avium complex (atypical mycobacterium)
  • Cryptococcus neoformans (a cause of meningitis)
  • Epstein Barr virus (which leads to a type of lymphoma)
  • Human herpesvirus-8 (which causes Kaposi's sarcoma)


Facing the greatest public health crisis of his administration, Ronald Reagan was not heroic. He was a dithering coward.
—Laura Helmuth[7]


Based on genetic analysis, the origin of the virus has been traced to a single transmission of chimpanzee to human in 1920 in what was then Leopoldville, Belgian Congo (now called Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of the Congo);[8] most likely the chimpanzee came from neighboring Cameroon as part of the bushmeatWikipedia trade. The illness was first recognized in the early 1980s in the US[9] as gay men presented to their doctors with a rare lung disease called Pneumocystis carinii pneumonia (PCP).[10] Early on, the "gay disease" took on a variety of names, including "gay cancer" and "Gay-related immune deficiency" (GRID). The CDC noticed an increase in requests for drugs needed to treat this illness and launched an epidemiological investigation.

Randy Shilts in his book And the Band Played On: Politics, People, and the AIDS Epidemic identified Air Canada flight attendant Gaëtan Dugas as "Patient Zero", the first person to contract HIV and spread AIDS in the US,[11] but this has been refuted by a new epidemiologic analysis; HIV arrival in the US preceded Dugas by a few years and arrived from Africa via Haiti.[12][13] The earliest likely person to have died from AIDS in the US was a 16-year-old in 1969.[14] Dugas was likely erroneously identified as patient zero because 1) he was a relatively early disease carrier in the US 2) he had over 2500 sex partners by his own admission, 3) he had an unusual name that his sex partners were more likely to remember, and 4) he had a 'O' for 'from out of town' on a chart of known sexual contacts of early victims that was later misinterpreted as a zero.[15]


The early epidemic-phase of the disease occurred in two main branches; in the US and other developed countries, and in sub-Saharan Africa. In the US, the early epidemic was primarily spread by anal sex (mostly among homosexuals), intravenous drug use, and blood transfusions. In sub-Saharan Africa, transmission was, and remains, widespread among heterosexuals, as anal sex is widely practiced as a means of contraception. Infection rates have dropped in industrialized countries, largely due to acceptance of safe sex practices. Currently, most new infections worldwide are in sub-Saharan Africa.


Social and political responses to the AIDS epidemic of the 1980s have included the "safe sex" movement, with demands for greater availability of contraception, greater awareness of the risks of unprotected sex, and more comprehensive sex education. Sadly, however, the fact of the matter was that Ronald Reagan refused to mention AIDS on television until the disease had spread so widely that it was no longer just an American but global pandemic. Reports from the CDC going back to 1980 were alerting the government of the numbers of infections and what that meant, but queers, dopers, and Haitian refugees can fuck themselves. Only when celebrity Rock Hudson[16] turned into a walking skeleton before everyone's eyes did the Gipper catch the drift. Hell of a job.

The movements for safe sex and comprehensive sex education have been met with continuing resistance from conservatives, who see them as implying approval of promiscuous lifestyles and hence contributing to "moral decline." (Apparently saving lives is moral decline.)

Quack treatments[edit]

See the main article on this topic: Quack HIV/AIDS treatments

There is no cure or vaccine for AIDS as of present time (though one drug used to treat HIV is also highly effective[note 2] as a prophylactic against HIV infection when taken regularly: tenofovir disoproxil/emtricitabine in combination, commercially known as Truvada,Wikipedia or colloquially as "PrEP").Wikipedia[17] Thus, unsurprisingly, there has grown a field of quack medical treatments purporting to treat AIDS. These treatments are ineffective and range from the harmless but worthless to potentially deadly.

HIV/AIDS and religion[edit]

When any man hath an issue out of his flesh,

Because of his issue, he is unclean.
Every bed whereon he lieth is unclean,
And everything whereon he sitteth, unclean,
And whosoever toucheth his bed shall be unclean,
And he that sitteth whereon he sat shall be unclean,
And he that toucheth the flesh of the unclean
Becomes unclean,
And he that be spat on by him, unclean

Becomes unclean.
—Diamanda Galás, "This Is The Law Of The Plague", adapted from Leviticus and Psalms[18]

American fundamentalism[edit]

Since AIDS initially appeared to be impacting only the gay community, some religious fundamentalist groups, proclaimed that the disease was a divine retribution for homosexuality, or for promiscuity and moral decline. Analogies were made to Sodom and Gomorrah, and semi-Biblical slogans such as "if you live by the flesh, you will die by the flesh" were coined; and of course references were made to Biblical predictions that plagues would mark the beginning of the apocalypse.

These ideas have lost weight[note 3] among most religious groups, although one study suggests that 23% of Americans still think AIDS is God's punishment for… well, something.[19] Global statistics of religious propaganda and belief based on AIDS being "retribution from God(s) for act XYZ" are unknown, as of present times. A few obnoxious extremists who have still clung to the punishment idea included the late Pat Robertson, the late Fred Phelps and the late Jerry Falwell. Placards held by members of Phelps' Westboro Baptist church in their homophobic picketing activities regularly include slogans such as "Thank God for AIDS." (Well, sure, if you wanted to portray your God as one of peace…)

Considering that first responders to accidents, babies born to infected mothers, or faithful wives/husbands infected by their partners all have exposure to AIDS, it is difficult to see what these innocent people have done to gain God's Wrath. Only Jehovah's Witnesses may perhaps imagine those who got the disease from blood transfusions are at fault. But we'll take schadenfreude at the fact that one of the most important Christian rock records was actually about AIDS.[20]

Other superstitions[edit]

Many other myths and superstitions have grown up surrounding AIDS, including the belief that the disease originated from a man having sex with a monkey or (non-human) ape, and contracting a simian disease from it. In societies with a poor education or awareness of AIDS, or a high level of prejudice, sufferers are often ostracised in the false belief that any kind of contact could spread the disease. In sub-Saharan Africa, the belief, known as virgin cleansing myth, is widespread that sex with a virgin will cure AIDS. This has had… unpleasant results.[21]

See also[edit]

External links[edit]


  1. These are the average rates of catching from an infected individual. The amount of viruses in semen and other fluids will vary. Someone who is "undetectable" (viral load too small to be detected in viral tests) has a negligible chance to transmit HIV, whereas someone with unmanaged HIV will have drastically higher chances of infecting others. Worse still, HIV transmission rates skyrocket if the other person has additional STDs such as Hepatitis
  2. According to the CDC: "PrEP reduces the risk of getting HIV from sex by about 99%", and "the risk of getting HIV from injection drug use by at least 74%."
  3. Almost as though the ideas themselves were suffering from AIDS symptoms…


  4. More here and here
  6. HIV transmission rates, CDC
  7. Hugger-in-Chief, Slate
  8. The geographic origin of AIDS is now known (October 2014) Institut de Recherche pour le Développement.
  9. New England Journal of Medicine, Volume 344:1764-1772. June 7, 2001, Number 23.
  10. Pneumocystis pneumonia — Los Angeles. MMWR Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report 1981;30:250-252.
  11. And the Band Played On: Politics, People, and the AIDS Epidemic by Randy Shilts (2007). St. Martin's Griffin, 20th anniversary edition. ISBN 0312374631. Page 147.
  12. HIV came to NYC at least a decade before virus ID'd: DNA analysis of early viral strains tracks U.S. debut to early '70s by Tina Hesman Saey (1:06pm, October 26, 2016) Science News.
  13. and ‘Patient 0’ HIV-1 genomes illuminate early HIV/AIDS history in North America. M. Worobey et al. Nature. Published online October 26, 2016. doi:10.1038/nature19827.
  14. A mystery illness killed a boy in 1969. Years later, doctors learned what it was: AIDS. by Steve Hendrix (May 15, 2019 at 7:00 AM) The Washington Post.
  15. See the Wikipedia article on Gaëtan Dugas.
  16. Ronnie was (allegedly) his butch in the 1950s.
  17. Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis (PrEP) Centers for Disease Control
  18. Diamanda Galás:This Is The Law Of The Plague Lyrics Fandom: LyricWiki.
  19. See AIDS as God’s Punishment for Immorality
  20. One by U2. Archived from Songfacts, 2 December 2013.
  21. BBC, Zambian march against rising child rape.