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Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) is a virus that has spread over the last 20 years in countries all over the world. Already more than 33 million people throughout the world are infected. More than 14 million have died.

HIV is a virus. Illnesses caused by a virus cannot be cured by antibiotics. (Although medicines may help to reduce the symptoms) People who have a virus - such as a cold- usually get better after a few days or weeks because the white blood cells of the immune system - which are responsible for fighting diseases - successfully overcomes them. When a person is infected with HIV the immune system tries to fight off the virus and does make some antibodies, but these antibodies are not able to defeat HIV.

The person is said to be HIV Positive. Many people do not feel ill at all when they are first infected. They may have no symptoms for a long time. They have not yet got AIDS. HIV acts by gradually destroying the immune system of the infected person. After about 5 to 10 years (although much earlier in a minority of cases) the immune system becomes so weak - or ¡¦deficient¡¦- that it cannot fight off infections as it used to. Eventually the infected person may lose weight and become ill with diseases like persistent severe diarrhoea, fever,or pneumonia, or skin cancer. He or she has now developed AIDS.

At the moment, in spite of much research, there is no cure for HIV or for AIDS and so, sadly, it is almost certain that people diagnosed with AIDS will die.

HIV is found in body fluids such as blood, semen, vaginal fluids and breastmilk. It is passed from one person to another - or transmitted - only in very specific ways. These are:

„h through sexual intercourse between a man and a woman or between two men;

„h through infected blood - for example through contaminated blood transfusions or unsterilised needles and syringes. ( In most places today blood transfusions are completely safe because the blood is tested for HIV before it is used to treat patients); and

„h from an infected mother to her baby while it is still in the womb or during childbirth or during breastfeeding.

HIV does not spread through "casual" everyday contact between people. It is not transmitted by coughing, or sneezing, or by touching or hugging someone who has the virus. It is not spread in air, water or in food, or by sharing cups, bowls, cutlery,clothing, or toilet seats. And HIV is not transmitted by biting insects such as mosquitoes, because the quantity of blood on their mouthparts is too minute. (From BBC website)

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