Effects of Human Immunodeficiency Virus

Laura Minkel
May 17, 2011


This well-known phenomenon of contracting the Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) is one thing people worldwide can relate to. Most often, the general public knows little more than the fact that HIV leads to Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome (AIDS) and that it is fatal. This paper will provide the reader with a greater understanding of what HIV and AIDS is and provides information about the unfortunate and inevitable effects that this virus has on its human host.

HIV 2 - Stanford University


As it is such a prominent issue for all areas of the world, the Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) was of great interest of mine because there is still no cure after all of the years researchers have studied this virus. What I wanted to get out of researching this topic was to become aware of what the virus does to the body and how it effects the people infected with it.

HIV and AIDS are considered two of the emerging infectious diseases. In the original cases, the men who had died during the beginning of this mysterious epidemic were found to of died from Pneumocystis pneumonia. These same cases were linked to cases of Kaposi’s sarcoma, a rare cancer. The researchers found that these people were first infected with a virus, now known as HIV, which then caused AIDS.

What many people may not know, is that a person infected with HIV and AIDS does not die from either, they become sick and die from microorganisms or cancerous cells. They become ill by pathogens that their body would otherwise kill if they did not have a suppressed immune system. When this epidemic started about thirty years ago, people saw it as a disease that was propagated through gay men having sex with each other; however, not only is that politically incorrect, but there are many ways that HIV is transmitted, not just one. After all of the research on HIV, it is confirmed that it is “spread through sexual intercourse, by contaminated needles, from infected mothers to their newborns via breast milk, and by blood transfusions—in short, by the transmission of body fluids from one person to another” (Tortora, G. et al., 21).


HIV destroys one type of our white blood cells that are important in our immune defense, the CD4+ T cells. Within about ten years, HIV will cause AIDS, the final stage of the HIV infection. Once one contracts AIDS, it allows cancer, as well as, bacterial, viral, fungal and protozoan diseases to infect the body.

AIDS patients are harmed by opportunistic pathogens. Opportunistic pathogens are normally harmless, however, they are pathogenic when they are in a host that has a suppressed immune system. Not only is Pneumocystis an opportunistic eukaryotic pathogen, but it is also is the leading cause of death. Other opportunistic infections that arise in AIDS patients that lead to fatal disease include Cryptococcus and Penicillium. A nonfatal infection that AIDS patients frequently endure is Candidiasis caused by Candida albicans. Another illness that causes the death of a person infected with AIDS is tuberculosis. The organized chart below, Table 19.5, provides a visual and reference to these stated pathogens and diseases associated with AIDS.

Table 19.5 Microbiology: An Introduction. Page 544
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Many severe effects are brought on when infected with AIDS. While being diagnosed with “clinical AIDS”, many patients become victim to tuberculosis, toxoplasmosis of the brain, Kaposi’s sarcoma and other infections. In general, the very young and the elderly are sooner and more frequently infected by the opportunistic pathogens than are young to middle aged adults. This is because the immune system is not fully developed in infants and young children, while replacing CD4+ T cells is no longer efficient in the elderly.

Children that are vertically infected generally suffer from encephalopathy. Encephalopathy causes a decline in or loss of brain growth, motor abnormalities and cognitive dysfunction. As AIDS progresses in children, they experience issues that many elderly people experience towards the end of their lives. The children with advanced AIDS may be subject to having dementia, bradykinesia and spasticity (Mitchell, 2001).

Some infections as an effect of AIDS are seen more in adult patients than in child patients. Most often, studies have seen more adult AIDS patients with Central Nervous System infections such as toxoplasmosis and progressive multifocal leukoencephalopathy. Also, tuberculosis is one of the leading illnesses that cause the death of a person with AIDS (WHO, 2011). The parasitic disease, known as toxoplasmosis, is caused by Toxoplasma gondii. Toxoplasmosis can cause a person with AIDS to endure encephalitis, neurological diseases, cardiac issues and other organ related problems (Shankar, 2009). The progressive multifocal leukoencephalopathy (PML) harms and deteriorates the white matter in the brain, which affects the efficiency of nerve signals. The beginning effects of PML in a patient with AIDS include clumsiness, weakness, and functional changes in their visual, speech and personality (NINDS, 2010).

As you can see, AIDS is not directly responsible for the death of the infected person, but rather it is indirectly responsible. I say indirectly responsible for the reason that if the person did not have a compromised immune system, they would be able to fight off and not be subject to these infections and diseases that kill them.

Join the fight!

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NGLS for the UNAIDS Program


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http://www.webmd.com/hiv-aids/guide /hiv-in-children.
2. Mitchell, W. (2001). Neurological and developmental effects of HIV and AIDS in children and
adolescents. Mental Retardation and Developmental Disabilities Research Reviews, 7(3),
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3. NINDS. (2010). “NINDS progressive multifocal leukoencephalopathy information page”.
National Institution of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. Retrieved from
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Pearson Education, Inc.
6. WHO HIV/AIDS department. (2011). “Tuberculosis and HIV”. World Heath Organization.
Retrieved from http://www.who.int/hiv/topics/tb/en/index.html.