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ScientIST: 20th Anniversary of World AIDS Day

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It's hard to believe, but December 1, 2008 marks the 20th anniversary of World AIDS Day. Today we come together as friends and family, as a city, as a state, as a country, and (most importantly) as a global community to educate and inform on the world AIDS epidemic. While others will (and should) debate the politics of this crisis, we here at the ScientIST feel it’s our duty to share some basic Health 101 behind the virus, transmission, and prevention. We turn to the experts at the Center for Disease Control for the latest in on-going research.

The Virus
HIV stands for human immunodeficiency virus. HIV-1, the strain that is most widespread globally, is a tricky little bugger, since it targets the very part of your body that protects you against infection. Once introduced, HIV-1 heads directly for CD4+ T cells in your immune system, takes them over, and with their own enzymes in charge, redirects their machinery for virus replication. The body attempts to mount an attack on HIV-1 with its normal immune response, including antibody production (seroconversion). At this point (about 2-4 weeks after infection), you will test positive on a standard HIV test and start to have flu-like symptoms (fever, swollen lymph nodes, malaise, etc.). The virus can then drop into a latent stage, where it sits dormant in CD4+ T cells, waiting for cues for reanimation.