Skin Care Network

AIDS Basics

AIDS (Acquired immune deficiency syndrome) is a progressive disease that is caused by HIV (human immunodeficiency virus), which interferes with the immune system's ability to fight infection. Although commonly confused, HIV refers to the virus that causes AIDS, and AIDS is the disease caused by HIV. AIDS develops when the immune system has been weakened to the point where it becomes overwhelmed by the HIV virus.

AIDS was not always well known. In the early 80s, there was much paranoia and ignorance surrounding this disease. There was little knowledge of how the disease was transmitted, and there was much stigma surrounding the disease. Some acquired HIV via blood transfusions from contaminated blood. Although there is far greater awareness, the number of AIDS patients continues to grow, and HIV is considered to be a pandemic

AIDS and Dermatology

The skin is often the first and most obvious manifestation of an HIV infection. Various symptoms that manifest in the skin can arise as a result of HIV infection, either as a direct result of infection, or from other opportunistic infections due to the weakening of the immune system. By recognizing skin-related changes at an early stage, a diagnosis can be made for HIV infection, a critical step in treating HIV. Dermatologists are often the first to notice the symptoms that make an HIV infection probable. This is the first area where dermatologists can contribute to HIV and AIDS-in its diagnosis.

Secondly, with advancements in AIDS research in the medical community, patients are living longer than ever before. Patient care and quality of life considerations are a major part of AIDS treatment and care. Various skin problems due to viral infection or skin cancer become very common as AIDS occurs, and dermatologists are needed to treat these manifestations. Common skin problems that are associated with HIV infection include:

  • Kaposi's Sarcoma
  • Thrush (candida infection)
  • Oral hairy leukoplakia
  • Molluscum contagiosum
  • Herpes
  • Shingles
  • Psoriasis
  • Seborrheic Dermatitis

It is important to remember that these are all skin problems that can occur independently of an HIV infection, and do not prove that one has an infection. However, an HIV infection can weaken the immune system making these symptoms more likely, or more severe and difficult to treat. Showing two or more of these symptoms, or an unusually severe case may point at a greater likelihood that the immune system is weakened.

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