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AIDS stands for Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome.

Acquired: it is passed on, but not inherited.
Immunodeficiency: the immune system grows weak and deficient.
Syndrome: a group of symptoms of which the cause is unknown.

However, it is now known that AIDS is caused by the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV). The word AIDS is still used to avoid confusion. The virus does not kill, but it damages the immune system, leaving the person vulnerable to rare infections and cancers which are life-threatening. If death occurs, it is not from AIDS, but from one of these opportunistic diseases.

HIV is transmitted in body fluids: blood, blood products, semen, vagina secretions, and breast milk. It does not appear to be easily transmitted in saliva.

The Future

Scientists using an experimental AIDS vaccine have succeeded in changing the way the body fights the AIDS virus. The discovery could open the door to new ways of treating the disease. By giving the vaccine to 30 men and women infected with HIV, researchers found that they were able to prompt the immune systems of most in the group into mounting a more sophisticated counterattack against the virus. It is too early to know if this response will help HIV-infected people to survive the ravages of the disease.

The study's results counter the long-standing and pessimistic conviction of many AIDS researchers that there is little to be done to improve upon the immune system's battle against the HIV virus.

New therapies such as the use of the antiviral drug AZT early in infection and inhaled pentamidine to prevent an AIDS-caused pneumonia will delay the time when HIV infection develops into full-blown AIDS.

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