An estimated 37 million people worldwide are living with HIV, with just under 2 million of those people having recently contracted the virus. In the United States, around 1.1 million people live with HIV, but as many as 15% (or roughly 1 in 7) of those infected do not know they carry the virus. Some groups bare more of the burden of the HIV risk than others, especially racial minorities and men who have sex with other men.
HIV is considered rare in the US with less than 200,000 new infections per year. But for those living with HIV, treatment of the virus becomes a lifelong commitment to medication and maintenance because a reliable cure remains elusive. What makes HIV so hard to eradicate? And how close has science brought us to a cure?
What Is HIV?
The human immunodeficiency virus, or HIV, is a virus that targets the body’s immune system. Within a few weeks of contracting the virus, known as the acute infection stage, people typically experience what feels like a very bad case of the flu as the virus works hard to replicate itself throughout the body. Once this initial surge is over, HIV transitions into a clinical latency stage which means people carrying the virus can go for years without experiencing any symptoms at all.
If left untreated, however, HIV can lead to acquired immunodeficiency syndrome, or AIDS. This occurs once the immune system has become sufficiently damaged or has been weakened enough to allow the contraction of what are called opportunistic illnesses.