AIDS, Virus of the Modern World


The first case ever diagnosed with the virus now known as AIDS was reported in 1979 in New York. By the middle of 1981, unusual immune system failure among gay men were flourishing in the United States. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) named the Disease GRID (Gay‑Related Immune Deficiency) because it was mainly found among homosexual men. It first appeared to be a "lifestyle‑associated" illness, linked to excessive stress to the immune system.


Scientists believed that a highly infectious virus, which wiped out T cells, and could be transmitted through intercourse, blood, or blood transfer from mother to fetus, caused GRID. In July of 1982, the disease was renamed AIDS (Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome). Since then, the disease's origins, the factors affecting it, the causes behind it, the symptoms originating from it, the groups at risk from it, and the practices leading to it have been widely and indecisively researched. Despite numerous painstaking efforts and billions of dollars spent on research; despite the numerous drugs created to "control" and relieve its several distinct symptoms, there is still no cure for it.


AIDS is caused by the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV). HIV's coat of protein fits the receptors in certain types of white blood cells (T cells) in the human immune system. When the virus is replaced into these cells, it reproduces and destroys the immune system cell in the process. It attacks the body by attacking the immune system, making the person unprotected and defenseless against many infections that they would normally be able to fight off easily. In many cases, HIV infection leads to AIDS, which not always but can lead to death.


HIV is a retrovirus that is transmitted by the exchange of bodily fluids ‑‑ usually through sexual acts and the sharing of drug needles, mother to infant transmission, and sometimes by the contamination of blood used in transfusions.


A retrovirus is a type of virus that contains RNA and produces a DNA analog (or counterpart) of its RNA by using a highly error‑prone enzyme known as reverse transcriptase. The virus is very complex, with two coats of protein. The outer coating fits with the receptors of T cells and the inner coating contains strands of RNA along with a few different types of enzymes. Once the virus is taken into the cell, an enzyme makes reverse transcription take place, which turns the virus' RNA into a matching set of DNA, which contains nine genes. A second set of enzymes insert the genes into the cell's DNA, making the cell produce protein and RNA needed to make more viruses, and the third set of enzymes makes these raw materials into new viruses and moves them out of the cell membrane. These then go on to infect other cells, and the process is repeated again and again, infecting the human body. The cell will keep reproducing HIV virus cells until the cell expires.


The reason why AIDS is difficult to cure is because, as mentioned above, the copying process is repetitive, but it is also prone to errors. Usually, when DNA is replicated in a cell, there is constant proofreading and repair to ensure that the DNA is perfect. In the case of the AIDS virus, in the process of reverse transcription, there is no proofreading mechanism. This makes DNA made from the viral RNA very different from what is coded originally. As a result, every virus that is produced is slightly different from the one that produced it.


This makes it hard for scientist to find a cure because the virus continuously changes making drugs that fit onto one kind of HIV ineffective against the others. However, there is hope for AIDS victims in the sense that scientists in the future will be able to make several drugs, which will be taken in combination. These drugs can stop the virus by blocking its life cycle at various points, making the disease manageable.


Since it began, the HIV/AIDS epidemic has killed approximately 21.8 million people, and currently effects 36.1 million people. This is a vast amount of people, and considering the fact that there exist many more unreported and undiagnosed cases.


It is likely that with the advancement in technology, increased awareness, better research on the virus, and better protection,