Autoimmune Disease vs. AIDS: The Difference

WARNING: Parents, please be advised that this post contains material of an adult nature. It is not recommended for children under the age of 18. If you are under 18 years of age, please get your parents’ permission before reading this post.

When someone with Crohn’s Disease or Ulcerative Colitis (UC) talks about how our diseases are in the category of an autoimmune disease, there are people out there who will back up and cross themselves for fear of being infected. People hear the words “autoimmune disease” and automatically think “AIDS.” But there is a big difference between autoimmune diseases and Acquired Immmune Deficiency Syndrome (aka AIDS).

March is Autoimmune Disease Awareness Month, so I have decided to take this opportunity and write a post about it. Although these two diseases share some symptoms, there are major differences between these two very distinct illnesses.

Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS)
First, let’s take a look at AIDS. More than 1.2 Americans suffer from AIDS. Unlike autoimmune diseases, Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome is a disease limited to the human immune system. It is caused by HIV (Human Immunodeficiency Virus). HIV is spread primarily through unprotected sexual intercourse, contaminated blood transfusions, needles and from mother to child. Bodily fluids such as saliva and tears do not transmit HIV.

Symptoms of HIV/AIDS
Upon initial infection, you may have no symptoms and the progression of the disease varies from person to person. This state may last months to ten years or more. During this time, the virus multiplies rapidly and begins to destroy the cells in the immune system and cells designed to kill infections. Once the immune system is weakened, people may experience the following symptoms:
• fatigue
• weight loss
• fevers/night sweats
• frequent yeast infections
• skin rashes
• memory loss (mostly short-term)
• mouth, genital or anal sores (herpes)

In AIDS, the most advanced stages of HIV, nearly every organ is affected. The most common symptoms include:
• cough
• shortness of breath
• seizures
• difficult or painful swallowing
• confusion
• severe diarrhea
• vision loss
• nausea and vomiting
• headaches
• coma

Like Crohn’s and UC, there is no cure for HIV. However, the progression of the disease can be slowed down with antiretroviral treatment. With treatment, people can expect to live relatively normal lives. As with most treatments and medicines, it is expensive and there are risks of side-effects. Without treatment, however, life expectancy is anywhere from 6 to 11 years. After the initial diagnosis of AIDS develops, life expectancy is reduced to as little as 2 years.

One of the biggest misconceptions about HIV is that it can be spread through casual, non-sexual contact. The truth is that blood, semen, pre-seminal fluid, rectal fluids, vaginal fluids, and breast milk are the only fluids in which the virus can be contracted. HIV can not be transmitted through tears or saliva.

Autoimmune Disease
Approximately 50 million Americans suffer from an autoimmune disease. Autoimmune diseases develop when your immune system mistakes healthy cells for foreign ones and begin attacking them. There are different types of autoimmune diseases that attack one or more tissues in the body.

There are approximately 80 known autoimmune diseases. Some of them have very similar symptoms, making it hard to pinpoint a diagnosis. Some autoimmune diseases include:

  • Rheumatoid Arthritis
  • Multiple Sclerosis
  • Vitiligo
  • Psoriasis
  • Lupus
  • Inflammatory Bowel Disease
  • Type 1 Diabetes

This is by no means an extensive list. You can have one or many autoimmune diseases. And if you develop one you are more likely to develop another. Autoimmune diseases often fluctuate between periods of remission and periods of active disease (known as flareups). As stated before there is no cure for autoimmune diseases and treatment varies from person to person. The severity of these diseases also varies. Because of these factors, it is difficult to determine the appropriate treatment.

Autoimmune diseases are not contagious, but they can run in families. The cause of these diseases is unknown but it is believed to have something to do with a persons genetics. Thankfully, people with an autoimmune disease can live relatively normal lives with a normal life expectancy. However, many complications of these diseases can be very fatal. In fact, without the medical advancements we’ve made, many people would have died without treatment.

NOTE: I am not a doctor or medical professional of any kind. This blog post was written to present the differences between autoimmune diseases and AIDS. It is not meant to diagnose or help treat any diseases. If you are ill or are exhibiting any of these symptoms, please see your healthcare professional. Colitis Ninja™ cannot be held responsible for your healthcare or the treatment of any diseases.