December 1st is World AIDS Day – an annual event, which since 1988, aims to unite people around the world in raising awareness of HIV and help support people living with HIV and to commemorate those who have died of AIDS-related diseases.

AIDS (Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome) is caused by HIV (Human Immunodeficiency Virus). The virus, which was only discovered in 1984, attacks the body’s immune system, making it impossible to fight off diseases and infections.  AIDS is the most advanced stage of infection with HIV.  A person with AIDS is infected with HIV and has at least one of a specific list of “AIDS-defining” diseases.  There is currently no vaccine available to protect against infection with HIV, one reason for this is the ability of the virus to mutate and make any vaccine obsolete very soon after its release.

HIV, however, is not the death sentence that it once was if it is caught early and treated, meaning that it does not lead to AIDS.  HIV stays in the body for life, but medication can keep it under control so that it doesn’t develop into AIDS.  The sooner a person is diagnosed, the more chance they have of leading a full and productive life.

HIV isn’t just a sexually transmitted infection.  It can be passed on via blood (by sharing drug-injecting equipment for example) and can also be passed from a mother to her unborn baby.

Worldwide, over 32 million people have died from AIDS since 1981, and it is estimated that approximately 37.9 million are living with HIV, the majority in sub-saharan Africa, where the availability and cost of medication makes it prohibitive to most of the population.

The red ribbon is the international symbol for AIDS awareness.  Buying a red ribbon pin helps to raise funds for charities involved in education, promoting the rights of people with HIV and AIDS and researching treatments and vaccines.

The battle to suppress the virus may be over, but the war against HIV transmission and infection still rages on.

Until next time, keep calm and apply some Science.

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