What is AIDS ?

Caring for a loved one with AIDS is no easy task. Not only does it require physically caring for someone you love at home, but it also means facing your own concerns about the diagnosis and eventual outcome of the disease. Most people fear an AIDS diagnosis in spite of the fact that the disease can generally be treated.

Caregivers of AIDS patients are often their partners. Hearing that your partner has AIDS may make you fear for your own health. It is also a difficult diagnosis because of its stigma. There is the stigma related to the fact that AIDS is generally transmitted sexually or through IV drug use. Many people feel judged because their loved one has AIDS. Then there is the stigma attached to having a potentially lifethreatening disease. This makes people uncomfortable, and some friends and family can become distant. At a time when you need it most, you may find it hard to get support. 

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Physical and emotional care can be time-consuming and exhausting. Many caregivers of people with AIDS have concerns about their loved one’s illness and future health prospects. Practical concerns, such as worries about financial issues and time management, are also common. The goal of this chapter is to address some of these concerns. Learning more about AIDS is an essential first step for caregivers because of widespread myths and fears about the disease. People are afraid of "catching" AIDS and, even today, a diagnosis of AIDS can feel like a death sentence. 

It can be difficult to learn about a disease when you do not know where to start. This section provides general information about AIDS, including what caregivers can do to help their loved ones. 

What is AIDS ?

Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome (AIDS) occurs when infection with the Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) destroys the body’s natural protection from illness. The immune system weakens to the point where it can be invaded by "opportunistic" infections and certain cancers. These infections would not cause problems for healthy people. For people with AIDS, they may cause serious or even life-threatening problems. 

Blood is an important part of the body’s immune system. White blood cells help protect people from disease. Certain white blood cells called T cells perform a crucial role. Some of the T cells are "helper" cells that signal other cells to do their jobs. HIV attacks and destroys the "helper" T cells. When enough cells are destroyed, the immune system no longer works and the patient has AIDS. 

Who Gets AIDS ?

In the United States, there have been more than 700,000 reported cases of AIDS since 1981. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that as many as 900,000 Americans may have HIV. AIDS is now the fifth leading cause of death among people between the ages of 25 and 44 in this country. 

(Adapted from the National Institutes of Health HIV/AIDS Fact Sheet, December, 2000) 

Unfortunately, there are many myths about how HIV is spread. Your loved one’s family members and friends may wonder if they can "catch" HIV. The disease is contagious but it cannot be spread from person to person through the air. It is usually spread through sexual contact with an infected partner. HIV can also be spread through contact with infected blood. This can occur when drug users share needles or syringes.
Young people in the United States are at persistent risk for HIV infection. This risk is especially notable for youth of minority races and ethnicities. Continual HIV prevention outreach and education efforts, including programs on abstinence and on delaying the initiation of sex, are required as new generations replace the generations that benefited from earlier prevention strategies. Unless otherwise noted, this fact sheet defines youth, or young people, as persons who are 13–24 years of age. STATISTICS HIV/AIDS in 2004 The following are based on data from the 35 areas with long-term, confidential 

name-based HIV reporting.* An estimated 4,883 young people received a diagnosis of HIV infection or AIDS, representing about 13% of the persons given a diagnosis during that year [1]. HIV infection progressed to AIDS more slowly among young people than among all persons with a diagnosis of HIV infection. The following are the proportions of persons in whom HIV infection did not progress to AIDS within 12 months after diagnosis of HIV infection: 81% of persons aged 15–24 70% of persons aged 13–14 61% of all persons African Americans were disproportionately affected by HIV infection, accounting for 55% of all HIV infections reported among persons aged 13–24 [2]. 

Young men who have sex with men (MSM), especially those of minority races or ethnicities, were at high risk for HIV infection. In the 7 cities that participated in CDC’s Young Men’s Survey during 1994–1998, 14% of African American MSM and 7% of Hispanic MSM aged 15–22 were infected with HIV [3]. During 2001–2004, in the 33 states with long term, confidential name-based HIV reporting, 62% of the 17,824 persons 13–24 years of age given a diagnoses of HIV/AIDS were males, and 38% were females. Age of persons with HIV infection or AIDS diagnosed during 2004 HIV/AIDS

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