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HIV (Human Immunodeficiency Virus) Infection (cont.)

What Increases Your Risk

Sexual contact

You have an increased risk of becoming infected with HIV through sexual contact if you:

  • Have unprotected sex (do not use condoms).
  • Have multiple sex partners.
  • Are a man who has sex with other men.
  • Have high-risk partner(s) (partner has multiple sex partners, is a man who has sex with other men, or injects drugs).
  • Have or have recently had a sexually transmitted infection, such as syphilis or active herpes.

Drug use

People who inject drugs or steroids, especially if they share needles, syringes, cookers, or other equipment used to inject drugs, are at risk of being infected with HIV.

Birth mother infected

Babies who are born to mothers who are infected with HIV are also at risk of infection.

Most children younger than 13 years who have HIV were infected with the virus by their mothers.

When To Call a Doctor

Known HIV infection

If you are infected with HIV or caring for someone who is, call or other emergency services immediately if any of the following conditions develop:

  • Seizures
  • Loss of consciousness
  • New weakness in an arm, a leg, or one side of the body
  • New inability to move a body part (paralysis)
  • New inability to stand or walk

Call your doctor if any of the following conditions develop:

  • Fever higher than 101°F (38.3°C) for 24 hours or a fever higher than 103°F (39.4°C)
  • Shortness of breath
  • Cough that produces mucus (sputum)
  • New changes in balance or sensation (numbness, tingling, or pain)
  • Ongoing diarrhea
  • Unusual bleeding, such as from the nose or gums, blood in the urine or stool, or easy bruising
  • Ongoing headache or changes in vision
  • Rapid, unexplained weight loss
  • Night sweats
  • Fatigue
  • Swelling of lymph nodes in the neck, armpits, or groin
  • Unusual sores, rashes, or bumps on the skin or around the genitals, anus, or mouth, or increased outbreaks of cold sores
  • Personality changes or a decline in mental ability, such as confusion, disorientation, or an inability to do mental tasks that the person has done in the past

Suspected or known exposure to HIV and symptoms are present

Call your doctor to find out whether HIV testing is needed if you suspect you have been exposed to HIV, particularly if you engage in high-risk behavior and have any of the following symptoms:

  • Abdominal cramps, nausea, or vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Enlarged lymph nodes in the neck, armpits, and groin
  • Fever
  • Headache
  • Muscle aches and joint pain
  • Skin rash
  • Sore throat
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Yeast infection of the mouth (thrush)

Suspected or known exposure to HIV but no symptoms

If you have not been tested for HIV, call your doctor if:

  • You suspect that you have been exposed to HIV.
  • You have engaged in high-risk behavior and are concerned that you were exposed to HIV.
  • Your sex partner engages in high-risk behavior.
  • Your sex partner may have been exposed to HIV.
  • Your sex partner has HIV.
  • You have any of the symptoms listed above.

Getting tested for HIV can be scary, but the condition can be managed with treatment. So it is important to get tested if you think you have been exposed.

Watchful waiting

If you don't have symptoms of HIV even though you have tested positive for the virus, you and your doctor may simply keep watching for symptoms to occur.

If you don't show any signs of disease and your CD4+ cell count is more than 500 cells per microliter (mcL), you may not need treatment. But during this time you still need regular checkups with a doctor to monitor the amount of HIV in your blood and see how well your immune system is working.

Who to see

Health professionals who can diagnose and may treat HIV include:

HIV can also be diagnosed and treated at an HIV care clinic.

Complications of HIV may require treatment by the following doctors:

If you don't have a doctor

Public health clinics and other organizations may provide free or low-cost, confidential testing and counseling about HIV and high-risk behavior.

If you don't have a doctor, contact one of the following for information on HIV testing in your area:

  • Your county or state health department
  • Local AIDS organization
  • Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) 24-hour information hotline: 1-800-232-INFO (1-800-CDC-4636). Or see the CDC National HIV Testing Resources website at www.hivtest.org.
  • National Association of People with AIDS (NAPWA) hotline: 1-866-846-9366 (toll-free). Or see the NAPWA website at www.napwa.org.
  • U.S. National Institutes of Health (NIH) toll-free HIV hotline: 1-800-HIV-0440 (1-800-448-0440). Or see the NIH AIDS website at www.aidsinfo.nih.gov.

To prepare for your appointment, see the topic Making the Most of Your Appointment.

eMedicineHealth Medical Reference from Healthwise

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