Saturday, March 7, 2009
In 1981, homosexual men with symptoms of a disease that now are considered typical of the acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS) were first described in Los Angeles and New York. The men had an unusual type of lung infection (pneumonia) called Pneumocystis carinii (now known as Pneumocystis jiroveci) pneumonia (PCP) and rare skin tumors called Kaposi's sarcoma. The patients were noted to have a severe reduction of a type of cell in the blood that is an important part of the immune system, called CD4 cells. These cells, often referred to as T cells, help the body fight infections. Shortly thereafter, this disease was recognized throughout the United States, Western Europe, and Africa. In 1983, researchers in the United States and France described the virus that causes AIDS, now known as the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) and belonging to the group of viruses called retroviruses. In 1985, a blood test became available that measures antibodies to HIV that are the body's immune response to the HIV. This blood test remains the best method for diagnosing HIV infection. Recently, tests have become available to look for these same antibodies in the saliva and urine, and some can provide results within 20 minutes of testing.