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Frequently Asked Questions

Q:  Is there a difference between HIV and AIDS?

A: Yes.  HIV is the acronym for Human Immuno-deficiency Virus.  This virus is the “germ” which gets into the body and begins to cause a break-down or weakening of the immune system. AIDS stands for Acquired Immuno-Deficiency Syndrome. AIDS is a syndrome [or collection] of symptoms and diseases that result as a person’s immune system becomes weaker and is unable to fight off disease-causing agents that are attacking it.  A person is declared to have AIDS when their CD4* count measures 200 or below.  A normal, healthy person has a CD4 count of 800-1200.

*CD4 cells are the most important cells in the body’s immune system.  They are the generals or the commanders of the body’s defensive army.

Q: What is the difference between HIV1 and HIV2?

A: There are two main viruses and many virus subtypes of the viruses associated with AIDS.  HIV1 is mainly found in Central, Eastern and Southern Africa, North and South America, and other parts of the world.  HIV2 is found predominantly in West Africa.

It must be stated that someone can be infected with HIV1 and HIV2.  With the increase in global travel sometimes HIV1 can be found in West Africa and HIV2 can be found in other parts of the world besides West Africa.

There are some major differences in the characteristics of HIV1 and HIV2.  HIV2 is less pathogenic [capable of causing disease] than HIV1 and has a slower progression to full-blown AIDS than HIV1.  HIV1’s progression to full-blown AIDS averages 2-5 years.  HIV2’s progression to AIDS is somewhat longer, averaging 8-10 years.  HIV2 also has lower rates of transmission and lower viral counts than HIV1.  In addition, some of the medicines used to treat HIV1 are not effective in the treatment of HIV2.

Q:  Why is the HI virus so much more deadly than other viruses?

A: A very simplistic answer to this question is that the HI virus targets [or primarily attacks] the CD4 cells in the human body.  The HI virus attaches itself to the CD4 cell, injects its RNA into the CD4 cell, and begins to make replicas of itself inside the CD4 cell. This reproducing continues until the CD4 cell becomes so full that it “splits” open and spills its contents (new HI viruses) into the body.  In essence, the HI virus kills the CD4 cell by splitting it open, and all of the new HI viruses are released into the body.    Every new HI virus reproduces itself 100 million times every 24 hours, so you can see how quickly the HI virus will begin to weaken the immune system.

Q:  Can insects such as mosquitoes spread the HI virus?

A: According to an expert in the area of transmission of the HI virus (Schoub 1999)*, there is no evidence that mosquitoes or other insects play a role in the transmission of the virus.  To date, there has never been a case of HIV attributed to the bite of an insect.  In areas where mosquito born diseases such as malaria are present, children who are sexually inactive and who are infected multiple times with malaria are never found to be infected with HIV.

*Schroub, B.D. 1999.  AIDS and HIV in perspective. A guide to understanding the virus and its consequences, 2nd edn. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.