How HIV infects Cells
First let’s understand what a virus is. A virus is a very small nonliving organism made up of a few strands of genetic material and a protein shell.
HIV is what is called a retrovirus. Unlike regular viruses, which have DNA (deoxyribonucleic acid) as their genetic material, retroviruses have RNA (ribonucleic acid). This enables HIV to duplicate itself on top of itself and trick the body into thinking that the HIV cell is DNA. This is called the transcriptase and RNA method. The reason this is so profound is that the body will not attack its own DNA. So instead of being destroyed, the body ignores it as a vital part of its make-up. The once single stranded virus is now turned into a double strand deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) with an enzyme that is called Reverse transcriptase. This allows HIV to be passed into the host cell’s nucleus, commandeer the host cell and begin reproducing itself.
HIV contains single stranded genetic material; therefore, it develops mutations more frequently than DNA viruses. What this means is that their genetic codes changes very quickly which does not leave a person’s immune system with any defense against the new version of the retrovirus. This makes it extremely difficult to fight.
So, HIV specifically white blood cells in the body better known as CD4 cells or T-helper cells). CD4 cells are the white blood cells that organize your immune system’s response to infection. They are therefore the head of the immune system and without these cells; the immune system does not function properly. The HIV breaks into the CD4 cell and makes more copies of itself and in doing so destroys the CD4 cell. These HIV cells repeat this process for as long as they can, weakening the immune system and rendering the body defenseless against disease and/or infection.
Your body makes new CD4 cells to replace the ones destroyed by HIV, but there comes a time when the body cannot keep up with the rate that they are being destroyed. This is when your CD4 count starts to drop and depending on how fast the CD4’s are being destroyed and how weak the immune system becomes dictates whether the person has HIV or has progressed to having AIDS or acquired immunodeficiency syndrome.
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