The first case of AIDS was identified in New York in 1979. The cause of the disease, a retro virus now called Human Immunodeficiency Virus, was identified in 1983-84 by scientists working at the National Cancer Institute in the United States and the Pasteur Institute in France. These workers also developed tests for AIDS, enabling researchers to follow the transmission of the virus and to study the origin and mechanism of the disease. Close relatives of the AIDS virus infect some African monkeys. This fact and the high incidence of infection of people in central Africa has led to the opinion that the AIDS virus originated there. In 1990, the World Health Organization announced that 203,599 cases of AIDS were reported worldwide by the end of 1989, and estimated the actual number of cases to be 600,000.

AIDS is part of everyday life for today’s young people, and they have many questions about this important and often confusing subject. AIDS stands for a condition called Acquired Immuno-Deficiency Syndrome. This is a very long name, but it is easy to understand if you take the different parts one at a time. The word acquired tells us that AIDS is something that a person gets, or acquires, from another person. Although AIDS can be passed from an infected woman to her unborn child, it is not something that you can inherit from your parents like your height or the color of your eyes and hair. It is also not an illness that can occur with no apparent outward cause, as cancer is, or that is a result of the body’s aging process, like Alzheimer’s disease.
Immunodeficiency is another long word, but it, too, is easy if you take it apart. Immuno refers to the body’s immune system. The immune system is the part of the body that fights off infections. When your body is invaded by organism that cause diseases like measles, the flu, or colds, the immune system prevents you from getting sick by attacking and destroying these organism. A deficiency means that there is a lack of something, or not enough of it to work correctly. So immuno- deficiency means that a person’s immune system is not strong enough to work correctly and is lacking the ability to fight off disease-causing organisms that, normally, it would destroy easily.

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The last word, syndrome, means a group of conditions or symptoms that show, or indicate, that something is wrong. If you put these three words together, you get a good definition of AIDS. A person with AIDS has a group of conditions or symptoms that indicate that she or he has become infected with a virus that is causing the immune system to become weakened to the point where substances that would normally be destroyed are now able to survive and cause infections and diseases.
AIDS is caused by a virus called HIV. HIV stands for human immunodeficiency virus. If we look at each part of this word, we will get a definition, as we did for AIDS.

In this case, we will start with the last word, virus. A virus is a very small organism that invades a person’s body and causes disease. Different viruses cause different illnesses. For instance,
the flu virus causes the flu and the measles virus causes measles. In this case, the virus HIV causes AIDS.

We already know that immunodeficiency means that a person has a weakened immune system. If we link this to the word virus, we know that HIV is a virus that causes immunodeficiency, a breakdown in the body’s immune system.

The first part of HIV, human, lets us know that this is a virus that affects only people, not animals. Putting this all together, we can determine that HIV is a virus that causes the condition of
immunodeficiency in humans.

When a person has been infected by the AIDS virus, we say that he or she is HIV-POSITIVE, or seropositive. This means that the person’s blood has tested positive for the presence of HIV. Since their discovery, both HIV and AIDS have been called different things at different times. Since AIDS is caused by HIV, many people simply it HIV disease. Throughout this book, the virus that


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