Acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS) is a later stage of infection with the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV). The disease was first recognized in 1981, and the virus identified in 1984. A variety of cells can be infected, but helper T lymphocytes are a particular target. These cells play a critical role in the immune system, so that a major effect of the virus is a weakening of the body's immunity and hence greatly increased susceptibility to a variety of other diseases, including some cancers. It is transmitted through sexual activity or through contaminated blood (particularly from shared needles among intravenous drug users). It is believed that over 1 million people have been infected in the United States, with over 400,000 already dead. Worldwide HIV has reached more than 30 million people, and it is having a devastating effect in some areas, particularly in Africa. Although there is no cure or vaccination, a number of potent drug therapies have been developed that can control the disease, at least for now, in many persons. However, the treatment itself is debilitating, and it is too expensive for most people in developing countries.
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