AIDS is a syndrome based upon blood counts and the presence of certain diseases (the “opportunistic infections.”) There are no specific AIDS symptoms since AIDS includes a large number of diseases. AIDS occurs when your immune system finally gives up the fight against HIV. Most HIV positive people, without treatment, will develop AIDS within 10 to 15 years following infection. The opportunistic infections are what frequently leads to the death of those who suffer from AIDS. Being HIV positive does not mean you have AIDS, nor does it necessarily mean you ever will develop AIDS. Unfortunately, because they never got tested, many people do not realize they are HIV positive until they develop AIDS, and have infected many other people in the mean time.
Well, the short answer is no one really knows. The most common theory is that it was transferred from monkeys to humans during a hunting party (i.e. the monkey’s blood infected a person, and that just happened to be a virus that liked both monkeys and humans), but that is just a theory. Other theories exist, some far fetched (a big government conspiracy) to more reasonable (a different, usually harmless, virus mutated and became HIV). If we were ever able to really determine where it came from, it may mean a great deal in trying to fight it, but at this point, it’s unlikely we’ll ever know for sure.
There has been a debate about this over the years, but that debate has basically died down now. When HIV was first discovered, people where skeptical that HIV actually caused AIDS, but after all these years, there has been significant amount of data and research to support that HIV does, in fact, cause AIDS. Not to mention, there has never been a case of an HIV negative person developing AIDS. The argument that HIV does not cause AIDS was more-or-less based on the assumption that it was the drugs themselves that cause AIDS and that HIV is harmless. Again, research has shown that people who are on treatment do not develop AIDS, or at least take longer to develop AIDS than people who are not on treatment. Yes, there are still people out there that believe the old theories, but there are also people out there that think the X-files is a documentary series, but that doesn’t make it true.
This is an idea that was much more prevalent in the early days of the epidemic than it is now, but there are still people out there that think the disease is a punishment from God for homosexuals and drug users. I have always found this a very disturbing idea. First of all, when looking at theology, God is usually not very wrathful, and when he is, it’s not arbitrary. It is a fact that babies do get HIV and AIDS; however, lesbians are considered one of the lowest risk groups. To me, that kind of shoots that punishment theory right out the window. Another thing to take into consideration is that world-wide, the vast majority of HIV infections are due to heterosexual sex, not homosexual sex or drug use. While it is true that in the U.S., the majority of HIV infections remain in the gay male population, heterosexual transmissions are the fastest growing group of new infections. Also, the last time I checked, God wasn’t considered malevolent, but was supposed to be the epitome of benevolence. Striking people with a lengthy and painful disease as a punishment doesn’t seem to me as being particularly benevolent.