by Abhi Manivannan

What is it?

HIV, standing for human immunodeficiency virus, enters a person's body, uses their cells to reproduce and copies itself imprecisely with mutations. Eventually it breaks down the body's immune system, leaving an infected person easily susceptible to more diseases. It causes AIDS, standing for acquired immune deficiency syndrome, and which is the most advanced form of the HIV disease.

The history behind it

Research began in 1981 when a syndrome became present in mainly homosexual men. Though at first it was believed that Gaetan Dugas was responsible for it, it was disovered that the virus HIV was present even in the 1960s and was then traced back to Haiti, and even further back, to Africa. Two samples from Africa were found infected with HIV and the common ancestor of the two was traced back to 1908, the date of spillover (when an infection passes from one species to another). Research began in animals until it was found that monkeys have a disease similar to HIV, named SIV. Chimpanzees have a form SIV extremely similar to HIV 1 so a study was conducted until the specific population of chimps where the disease originated was found, in southeastern Cameroon.

The theory is that the true patient zero, the first human to be infected with HIV was a Bantu man that was hunting in this area when he killed the infected chimp. As he was butchering the chimp he cut himself leading to blood to blood contact. The hunter could have passed it to a women who could have passed it to a fisherman who took the disease through the rivers, to the city. The city, alive with activity, is also filled with opportunities for HIV to spread globally.

The first chimp, who infected the first man, likely got the disease from eating two different types of monkey each with it's own version of SIV. By being in the right place at the same time, the two versions came together and caused the creation of HIV, which thrived, spread and eventually started the pandemic known as AIDS.

Impact On The World

HIV affects every country in the world and continues to grow in many of them. 42 million people today live with HIV/AIDS. Sub-Saharan Africa is the worst affected, with three-quarters of those infected living in this region. The disease has already orphaned 12 million children in Africa.

The disease not only wreaks havoc socially and emotionally but also economically. HIV/AIDS subtracts an additional 1% a year from the GDP of several sub-Saharan African countries because of the continued loss of workers and in South Africa may lower the GDP as much as 17% in the next decade. HIV/AIDS also creates higher costs of health care and destroys health insurance schemes.

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Current Treatments

At the moment there is no cure for HIV/AIDS. There are however, treatments. Many people take a combination of medicines called a cocktail. These drug cocktails help strengthen the immune systems to keep HIV from developing into AIDS or to help with the symptoms of AIDS. They are expensive, have extreme side effects and aren't available for everyone but they can help those who use them live with HIV/AIDS for many years.

HIV and Leukemia?

Emily Whitehead was diagnosed with Leukemia when she was 5. Chemotherapy didn't help her and she continued to relapse. As her condition worsened, doctors suggested a treatment in trial called CTL019 which would use immune T cells taken from a patient's blood. The T cells are genetically modified to use a protein that will bind to a spot on cancerous B cells. HIV is what makes the protein work, engineered so it can't cause disease anymore but retains it's ability to reprogram the immune system to attack cancer cells. Whitehead underwent the treatment and her Leukemia cells were killed. She is currently healthy and trials for the treatment are ongoing.

Work Cited

Allen, N. (n.d.). Emily Whitehead: girl whose cancer was 'cured' by HIV. The Telegraph. Retrieved March 29, 2014, from

HIV & AIDS. (n.d.). HIV. Retrieved March 29, 2014, from

HIV/AIDS. (n.d.). WHO. Retrieved March 29, 2014, from

Radiolab. (n.d.). idea explorer. Retrieved March 28, 2014, from