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HIV/Aids

Updated 17 August 2018

Causes of HIV/AIDS

According to researchers, two viruses cause AIDS, namely HIV-1 and HIV-2. These viruses belong to a family called the retroviruses and are able to infect a person for the rest of that person's life.

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Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS) is caused by one of two viruses: HIV-1 or HIV-2. 

HIV-1 is the predominant virus in most parts of the world, including South Africa, while HIV-2 is most commonly found in West Africa.

The two HI viruses are retroviruses that insert their genetic material into the DNA of the cells of the person they’ve infected. In this way, they can infect you for the rest of your life, while decreasing your resistance to infections and certain cancers.

The HI virus, which is circular in shape, does something that no other virus does: it attacks your CD4 cells (the most important immune cells in your body), uses them to reproduce, and then destroys them.

The immune system weakens as more CD4 cells are killed, eventually progressing to AIDS.

The choice of antiretroviral treatment (ART) for HIV-2 differs from that for HIV-1, which is why it’s important to get tested properly. ART is designed to interfere with the virus’s ability to reproduce, slowing down the progression of HIV to AIDS.

Read more
Risk factors of HIV infection

Reviewed by Dr Pooja Balani, MBBS (UK). Medical Technical Advisor at the Southern African HIV Clinicians Society. March 2018.

 

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Dr Sindisiwe van Zyl qualified at the University of Pretoria in 2005. She is a patients' rights activist and loves using social media to teach about HIV. She is in private practice in Johannesburg.

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