HIV And The Immune System

Adapted from original prepared for the ACE directory by Al McKittrick

HIV stands for Human Immunodeficiency Virus. A virus is an organism that has to be inside some other cell in order to multiply. In the case of HIV, the virus attacks white blood cells in your immune system, specifically your CD4 T-cell. This is not good news for your immune system because it is the CD4 T-cell that would normally lead the attack against HIV. And it does. From the time you are infected, the body is very busy making millions of CD4 cells to combat the millions of new cells that the virus is making. This battle goes on for years until slowly the virus overwhelms the immune system and the body loses its ability to fight off a variety of illnesses, called opportunistic infections.

This gradual destruction of the immune system doesn’t happen the same way in everyone, or at the same pace. In a small percentage of people, infection with HIV leads to destruction of the immune system very rapidly, in just a few years.

But on average, even without drug treatment, most people remain well for 7 – 10 years before experiencing the first serious symptoms. That’s why it’s a good thing that you know now that you are positive, because you can slow or prevent the destruction of your immune system with medications and therapies.


More Information: Monitoring Your Health