Build-up to World Aids Day 2019 |25 November 2019
Understanding HIV (Human Immunodeficiency Virus)
HIV stands for human immunodeficiency virus. The virus can lead to acquired immunodeficiency syndrome, or Aids.
Unlike some other viruses, the human body cannot get rid of HIV. Once you have HIV, you have it for life.
The HIV life cycle
In order for viruses to reproduce, they must infect cells in the body.
Viruses are not technically alive: They are like a brain without a body. So in order to make more copies of itself, a virus must hijack our cells and use them to make new viruses. But how does that happen?
Your body constantly makes new skin and blood cells, and each cell often makes new proteins in order to stay alive and reproduce. Viruses hide their own DNA in the DNA of the cell. So when the cell tries to make its own proteins, it accidentally makes new viruses as well.
HIV can infect many types of cells in the body, but it mostly infects cells in the immune system. Once infected, a cell can produce hundreds of new copies of HIV.
The main target for HIV is a white blood cell called a T4 lymphocyte, or “T helper cell”. The T4 cell is responsible for warning your immune system that there are invaders present.
Once HIV binds to an immune cell, it hides its DNA inside the cell’s DNA: This turns the cell into a sort of HIV factory so it can make many more copies of itself.