HIV/AIDS is a scary condition. More than 35 million people live with it today. More that many have died at its hands, as of 2012. To this day, 1.5 million people are dying because of it every year, in 2005 that number was 2.2million. And more than that are being infected every year.
HIV Virus Spreading:
There are many myths about this - but there are only 3 routes of the virus actually spreading.
1) Through sexual contact, which is why there is a huge negative stereotype and discrimination of patients with this disease. The chances of this can be significantly reduced through the use of protection, by providing said protection and through education.
2) Through contamination by bodily fluid, which occurs rarely by blood transfusion (a risk as low as 0.00002%, or 1 in 5million, though in less developed countries the screening is less efficient and thus it remains a large way of spreading), needle stick injuries or exposure to infected blood on skin (also a very low chance of it actually infecting you) or through sharing of drug needles. Aggressive treatment 48 - 72 hours after therapy can drastically reduce the chances of infection as well.
3) Mothers can pass it on to their babies, though the chances of this occurring can be drastically reduced if you get access to programs which reduce this vertical transmission. This lowers the chances of getting the disease through this route from the current 25% by 92 - 99%.
There ARE treatments now for patients who have HIV/AIDS. Treatments that have made the condition a chronic one in some parts of the developed world.
But there is no cure, yet.
And not everyone can get these treatments...
Antiretroviral therapy can stop the disease from progressing as quickly and prolong life, when these therapies can be accessed. Highly active antiretroviral therapy (HAART) is a combination of these drugs, working through different mechanisms, which together have made HIV/AIDS a chronic condition for millions. This, when combined with treatment of infections and screening for cancers.
However, it is estimated that 12 million of the 34million sufferers of HIV/AIDS can't even access these medications, and many of the remaining 22million cannot take them daily, as is needed. Missing doses can confer resistance to this therapy. And ongoing antiretroviral therapy has many serious side effects on the rest of the body, especially the heart, brain and kidneys, and a list of these can be seen here.
You may have heard last year of a baby who was "cured" of HIV infection with aggressive treatment with this therapy and there are 14 French patients who doctors reported had a similar low rate of disease in the body when they stopped taking these drugs. These patients still have HIV infected cells in the body though, and it may not remain that way in the long run, but it offers hope where there was none before.
This therapy may have been inspired by the original Berlin patient, who was functionally cured (have no side effects and a very small rate of infected cells) of HIV/AIDS for the first time in history in 1998. He was put on antiretroviral drugs as treatment, as well as a cancer drug not usually known to treat HIV/AIDS, but came off it. It is not known why this happened though, and with only 14 other cases of a functional cure after stopping these drugs having been reported in France, it's not considered a curative option as such.
The second Berlin Patient however was different. Timothy Ray Brown was diagnosed with HIV/AIDS in 1998. He developed AML (Acute Myeloid Leukemia, what I had) in 2006. His doctors arranged for him to have a bone marrow transplant to treat the leukemia.
There is a mutation present in the genes of an estimated 4 - 16% of the European population on the CCR5 gene (CCR5 is a protein on the surface of white blood cells - blood cells responsible for fighting off infections, but HIV1 often uses this to target and enter immune cells of the body from which point it progresses) which confers higher immunity from being infected with HIV/AIDS, and total immunity if you have the allele (which occurs if you are homologous for the mutation, that is, if both your mother and father passed it on to you). Timothy Brown was lucky enough to have a matched unrelated donor (read more about bone marrow transplants here) and even luckier to have one who had a homologous CCR5 gene mutation.
After his marrow was ablated (completely killed off) and the donor's haematopoietic stem cells (cells which make blood) were infused and they engrafted (began to make cells), within months there were no detectable levels of HIV virus in his tissues. And to this day, his CD4 T cell count remains high (HIV infection reduces these counts), despite being off antiretrovial therapy, and only very minute levels by the most sensitive tests can detect any HIV in his tissue. His doctors insist these are actually dead HIV cells. They're probably right, as with that mutation, there's no real way for HIV to enter and infect other host CD4 T cells.
The others I discussed above are considered in remission, and it is not known whether or not the disease may return for them.
Unfortunately, though, the chances of this happening for every HIV/AIDS patient is extremely low, as not only do you have to have a perfect HLA match with another person, they have to also have such that homologous mutation, only present in a maximum of 2% of the European population. And also, bone marrow transplants are often painful, expensive, risky procedures and with HIV/AIDS now considered a chronic condition (though a median survival of 9 - 11 years if you're infected early and not getting proper therapy is pretty low - this number skyrockets to 43 years with proper therapy), it isn't seen as a good option for curing the disease.