Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS)
In order for viruses to reproduce, they must infect a cell. Viruses are not technically alive: they are sort of like a brain with no body. In order to make new viruses, they must hi-jack a cell, and use it to make new viruses. Just as your body is constantly making new skin cells, or new blood cells, each cell often makes new proteins in order to stay alive and to reproduce itself. Viruses hide their own DNA in the DNA of the cell, and then, when the cell tries to make new proteins, it accidentally makes new viruses as well. HIV mostly infects cells in the immune system.
First the basics: what is AIDS? AIDS (acquired immune deficiency syndrome) is a condition caused by a virus called HIV. This virus attacks the immune system, the body's "security force" that fights off infections. When the immune system breaks down, you lose this protection and can develop many serious, often deadly infections and cancers. These are called "opportunistic infections" (OIs) because they take advantage of the body's weakened defenses. You have heard it said that someone "died of AIDS." This is not entirely accurate, since it is the opportunistic infections that cause death. AIDS is the condition that lets them take hold.
And what is HIV? HIV
is a virus, like the flu or cold. A virus is really nothing but a set of
instructions for making new viruses, wrapped up in some fat, protein and
sugar. Without living cells, a virus can't do anything - it's like a brain
with no body. In order to make more viruses (and to do all of the other
nasty things that viruses do), a virus has to infect a cell. HIV mostly
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