HIV is a retrovirus that is not able to replicate on its own without entering and destroying the human host CD4 T cells, and other cells of the immune system. If left untreated, HIV attacks and eventually depletes the immune system (the body’s protection against disease) whereby the number of functional (uninfected) CD4 T cells (immune cells) decreases to very low levels. At that point, this can lead to AIDS (Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome) whereby a person becomes highly susceptible to many common communicable diseases (called Opportunistic Infections) – some of which are life-threatening conditions, that the body can no longer fight off on its own without HIV ARV treatment and other drugs. There is currently no cure for HIV. However, HIV antiretroviral treatment stops the progression to AIDS by keeping the virus supressed and the immune system working well.
There are two types of HIV: HIV-1 and HIV-2. HIV-1 is the most prominent in Australia. HIV-2 is more common in Africa and other nations. Both types have the same effect where almost all aspects of the immune response are altered. Both types of HIV are amenable to effective HIV antiretroviral treatment, which suppresses the HIV virus and restores a healthy immune system.
HIV is spread through bodily fluids and can be transmitted through non-condom sex, by sharing needles/syringes, or from mother-to-child during pregnancy or through breastfeeding. HIV is treated using a combination of anti-HIV medication (combination therapy- cART) which stops the virus spreading through the body.