What is AIDS?

AIDS stands for acquired immune deficiency syndrome. It is a condition where there is a critical loss of the body’s cellular immunity. People who have AIDS have an incredible lack of immunity from infections and disease, which eventually causes their deaths. AIDS was identified in the early 1980s and there began the AIDS epidemic. Millions of people around the globe have been affected by AIDS.

AIDS itself does not kill people, it’s the complications brought on by AIDS that actually kills a person. Which is why it is correct to say that someone “died due to an AIDS-related illness” or as “a complication of AIDS”, rather than “s/he died from AIDS”.

The cause of AIDS is a virus called HIV (the human immunodeficiency virus). It is transmitted mainly through blood and sexual fluids such as semen. There is no cure, although the condition can be managed with drugs, extending the lifespan to near normal length.

There’s also preventative medicine, commonly known as PrEP, which when taken as prescribed by a doctor, is very effective in stopping HIV transmission.

In the West, AIDS was seen, in the 80s as a homosexual disease. It killed many gay and bisexual men in the early days. It stumped doctors, scientists and politicians. The early response was considered woefully inadequate. Slowly as more information came to light it was discovered that AIDS was not just confined to the gay community. For a more in-depth reading about how HIV/AIDS affected the gay community in the early to mid-80s, read Randy Shilts book, And The Band Played On.

In Africa, where there are many people living with HIV/AIDS transmission happens mostly between heterosexual people.

Can you expand this definition? Use the comments below and your answer could be used to expand or define this glossary entry.

Check out more definitions in our Big Gay Glossary

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