As the world is consumed by the health and economic effects tied to the coronavirus pandemic, Monday is a reminder of another disease that’s still plaguing the planet.
Another World AIDS Vaccine Day has arrived, a day created in 1998 by then-President Bill Clinton to help spread awareness and promote research for a cure.
AIDS and HIV, a virus that can lead to the development of AIDS, became a major global concern in the ’80s and ’90s, with the first known reports of the disease in the United States dating to 1981.
In 1995, the AIDS epidemic peaked in the U.S., with a reported 50,000 deaths that year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Thanks to anti-retroviral therapy and its ability to control the spread of HIV and AIDS, the number of new HIV infections fell 37% and HIV-related deaths 45% between 2000 and 2018, according to the World Health Organization.
But AIDS/HIV still remains a problem, since a vaccine has yet to be created and nearly 38 million people worldwide were living with HIV at the end of 2018, according to WHO.
What are signs or symptoms of HIV/AIDS?
Some signs and symptoms include weight loss, fever, diarrhea, cough, fatigue, swollen lymph nodes and mouth sores.
Symptoms can vary depending on the stage of infection, according to WHO. Many can be unaware they have the disease until its later stages.
How can HIV/AIDS be transmitted?
The disease can be transmitted through the exchange of a variety of body fluids from infected people, such as blood, breast milk, semen and vaginal secretions, according to WHO.
It can also be transmitted from mother to child during delivery or pregnancy.
Is HIV/AIDS similar in any ways to COVID-19?
The similarities are minimal, but there are a couple of ways HIV/AIDS and COVID-19 are alike, according to Forbes. Both diseases target cells called T lymphocytes and they also produce lymphopenia, which results in an atypically low number of lymphocytes in the blood.
Why has it taken so long to find a vaccine for HIV/AIDS?
There are eight obstacles to a vaccine, according to Healthline.
- The immune system doesn’t respond to the HIV virus. It produces antibodies that slow it down, but those don’t stop it.
- There’s no immune reaction to mimic. Vaccines are typically made to mimic the reaction of those who recover, but since virtually nobody recovers after contracting HIV, there’s no immune reaction to mimic.
- HIV is an infection, and vaccines protect against disease, not infections.
- Many vaccines are made with killed or weakened viruses, but ‘killed HIV’ doesn’t work well to produce an immune response in the body.
- Vaccines are typically effective against diseases that are rarely encountered. With people being exposed to risk factors for HIV daily, there’s more chance for infection that a vaccine doesn’t prevent.
- HIV enters the body in a different way. Most vaccines protect against viruses that enter the body through the respiratory or gastrointestinal systems, but HIV enters the body through genital surfaces or blood. There’s less experience protecting against viruses that enter in those ways.
- There’s no good animal model to test for HIV before trying on humans.
- HIV mutates quickly. A vaccine usually targets a virus in a particular form, but won’t work when the virus changes.
AIDS/HIV by the numbers (according to World Health Organization)
- 32 million. Roughly the number of people who have died worldwide of HIV/AIDS.
- 37.9 million. The number of people living with HIV at the end of 2018.
- 24.5 million. The number of people who were accessing anti-retroviral therapy as of June 2019.
- 37%. The percentage drop in new HIV infections between 2000 and 2018.
- 45%. The percentage drop in HIV-related deaths between 2000 and 2018.