Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome (AIDS)

  • Medical Author:
    Mary D. Nettleman, MD, MS, MACP

    Mary D. Nettleman, MD, MS, MACP is the Chair of the Department of Medicine at Michigan State University. She is a graduate of Vanderbilt Medical School, and completed her residency in Internal Medicine and a fellowship in Infectious Diseases at Indiana University.

  • Medical Author: Rowena A. Medina, MD
  • Medical Author: Eric S. Daar, MD
    Eric S. Daar, MD

    Dr. Daar received his undergraduate degree from UCLA and medical degree from Georgetown University School of Medicine. He completed an internship and residency in internal medicine at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center and his clinical and research fellowship in infectious diseases at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center and UCLA.

  • Medical Editor: Jay W. Marks, MD
    Jay W. Marks, MD

    Jay W. Marks, MD

    Jay W. Marks, MD, is a board-certified internist and gastroenterologist. He graduated from Yale University School of Medicine and trained in internal medicine and gastroenterology at UCLA/Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles.

HIV/AIDS Myths and Facts

Quick GuideHIV AIDS Pictures Slideshow: Myths and Facts on Symptoms and Treatments

HIV AIDS Pictures Slideshow: Myths and Facts on Symptoms and Treatments

What is the history of AIDS?

Careful investigation has helped scientists determine where AIDS came from. Studies have shown that HIV first arose in Africa. It spread from primates to people early in the 20th century, possibly when humans came into contact with infected blood during a chimpanzee hunt. By testing stored blood samples, scientists have found direct evidence of a human being infected as long ago as 1959.

Once introduced into humans, HIV was spread through sexual intercourse from person to person. As infected people moved around, the virus spread from Africa to other areas of the world. In 1981, U.S. physicians noticed that a large number of young men were dying of unusual infections and cancers. Initially, U.S. victims were predominately gay men, probably because the virus inadvertently entered this population first in this country and because the virus is transmitted easily during anal intercourse. However, it is important to note that the virus also is efficiently transmitted through heterosexual activity and contact with infected blood or secretions. In Africa, which remains the center of the AIDS pandemic, most cases are heterosexually transmitted. Twenty years ago, the news that Magic Johnson had acquired HIV heterosexually helped the country realize that the infection was not limited to men who had sex with men. Currently in the U.S., approximately 27% of new HIV infections are a result of heterosexual transmission.

Other major factors in the early days of AIDS were injection drug use (IDU) through needle sharing and transfusions of blood and blood components. Numerous hemophiliacs and surgical patients were infected through tranfusions before the ability to test for the virus in donated blood became available.

In the years since the virus was first identified, HIV has spread to every corner of the globe and is one of the leading causes of infectious death worldwide. Statistics from the World Health Organization show that approximately 1.5 million people die each year from AIDS, and 240,000 of these are children. Worldwide, half of HIV-infected people are women. Two-thirds of current cases are in sub-Saharan Africa.

In the U.S., more than 1 million people are currently infected with HIV, and approximately 50,000 are newly infected each year. Over the years, more than 600,000 people in the U.S. have died from AIDS, many of them during what should have been their most productive years of life.

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 4/16/2015

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