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AIDS (Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome) is the final and most serious stage of HIV disease, which causes severe damage to the immune system. It is caused by the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), which destroys the body's ability to fight infections. Specific cells of the immune system that are responsible for the proper response to infections (T cells) are destroyed by this virus.
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Characteristically a person infected with HIV initially experiences no symptoms for a variable period of time. This may be followed by the development of persistent generalized swelling of the lymph nodes (AIDS-related lymphadenopathy). Eventually most patients infected with HIV experience a syndrome of symptoms that includes excessive fatigue, weight loss, and/or skin rashes. The later stages of HIV infection are characterized by the progressive depression of T cells and repeated infections that can even occur during a course of antibiotic therapy for another infection (super infections). People with AIDS are particularly vulnerable to "opportunistic infections" from bacteria that other people normally fight off. Pneumocystis carinii, which causes severe inflammation of the lungs (pneumonia), is a common infection that affects people with AIDS. Cancers (malignant neoplasms), and a wide variety of neurological abnormalities, most notably the AIDS dementia complex, may also occur. These neurological symptoms when of HIV, infects the nervous system.
CDC estimates that 1.2 million people in the United States are living with HIV – and nearly one in seven of those are not aware that they are infected. More than 90 percent of new HIV infections in the United States could be averted by diagnosing people living with HIV and ensuring they receive prompt, on-going care and treatment. Approximately 50,000 people become newly infected each year. In addition to recognized risk behaviors, a range of social and economic factors places some Americans at increased risk for HIV infection. Prevention efforts have helped keep the rate of new infections stable in recent years, but continued growth in the number of people living with HIV ultimately may lead to more new infections if prevention, care, and treatment efforts are not targeted to those at greatest risk.
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