Q. What are AIDS and ARC? Are they related to immune system function and what can I do to protect my brain and body?

A. AIDS is an acronym for Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome. It's a serious, life-threatening condition that's believed to be triggered by the Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV). Several strains have been identified. ARC, or AIDS Related Complex, refers to a syndrome with similar symptoms, but one that doesn't match the classic definition of AIDS as established by the Centers for Disease Control.

These conditions are related to immune system function (the virus attacks the body's immune system, leaving it vulnerable to organisms against which it would ordinarily defend) but the virus can attack other body organs such as the brain, as well. The AIDS epidemic was officially recognized in June of 1981 and is now considered to be pandemic. The HIV’s ancestor was likely a virus that infected chimpanzees. Somehow it spread to people in west equatorial Africa, perhaps through a bite or hunting mishap. The worldwide AIDS pandemic may have resulted from a single viral ancestor that emerged perhaps around 1930. A sample of HIV:

Primary exposure risks include:

  1. Exposure to the blood or body fluids (e.g., sperm, seminal fluid, vaginal fluid) of another individual through sexual activities. The risk increases with a history of multiple sex partners and/or behaviors that promote bruising, bleeding, or the unprotected exchange of body fluids. Remember that there's no such thing as safe sex. There is abstinence from all types of sexual activities or safer sex. Safer sex means the correct and consistent use of barrier protection (e.g., latex condom--male types and female types available--plus a contraceptive cream that contains Nonoxynol-9).
  2. Exposure to the blood or body fluids of another individual through occupational activities and/or through unprotected contact with infected blood/body fluids through contaminated items such as sharps.
  3. Perinatal exposure meaning transmission of the HIV during pregnancy or at time of delivery.

Prevention strategies include:

  • Increase your knowledge base about HIV infection, AIDS, and ARC and take appropriate measures. Prevention is always better than cure!
  • Live a balanced, high-level-wellness lifestyle. Do everything you can to strengthen your body's immune system and to get suppressors out of your daily life (e.g., smoking cigarettes, eating high fat-foods).
  • Practice Universal (Standard) Precautions. That is, assume that the blood and/or body fluids of everyone you know contain pathogenic organisms. Think ahead and avoid unprotected exposures insofar as possible.
  • Avoid behaviors that could result in an unprotected exposure to the blood/ body fluids of another individual.
    • Utilize personal protective equipment in occupational settings such as hospitals and medical clinics
    • Practice sexual monogamy (if sexually active); avoid promiscuity and/or serial monogamy (multiple sexual partners in sequence)
    • Avoid recreational/IV drugs, tattooing, shared needles, indiscriminate use of antibiotics
    • Consider autologous blood (self-donation) for elective surgery