Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD, is a U.S. board-certified Anatomic Pathologist with subspecialty training in the fields of Experimental and Molecular Pathology. Dr. Stöppler's educational background includes a BA with Highest Distinction from the University of Virginia and an MD from the University of North Carolina. She completed residency training in Anatomic Pathology at Georgetown University followed by subspecialty fellowship training in molecular diagnostics and experimental pathology.
Human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) is the virus that causes acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS). HIV destroys the body's immune system and eventually leads to AIDS. People with AIDS develop many diseases and "opportunistic" infections (such as
pneumonia, tuberculosis, cancer, and skin infections) that may ultimately lead to death. Prevention is critical. There is no cure for HIV/AIDS, but currently, there are effective treatments that can drastically slow the disease process. If you have been exposed to the HIV virus in any number of ways, you can very easily be tested to determine whether or not you have been infected with the virus.
How HIV is transmitted
The HIV virus can be transmitted by unprotected sexual contact (vaginal, anal, or oral sex), sharing needles, by transfused blood products, from mother to newborn, and by occupational needle-stick exposures.
Higher risk of HIV transmission is associated with penile anal intercourse and IV drug abuse.
Higher risk of HIV transmission is associated with a higher number of sexual partners.
From the minute the HIV enters the body, the virus begins replicating at a rate of 10 billion new specimens per day. In fact, it is during this early burst of viral replication, within the first month of contracting HIV, when patients are mostly asymptomatic, that the virus is high in numbers and more likely to be spread from one person to another.
Ninety to 95% of all new HIV infections occur in developing countries, such as in Africa and Asia, where the vast majority of cases are transmitted by sexual relations between men and women (heterosexual intercourse).
In the United States, there are over 1.2 million people living with HIV, and there are an estimated 40,000-50,000 new HIV infections per year. Shockingly, it is estimated that 20%-25% of HIV-positive patients are unaware that they are infected.
The vast majority of cases are known to have been transmitted by homosexual and bisexual men and IV drug abusers. Among homosexuals, it appears that the receptive partner during anal intercourse is placed at highest risk for disease transmission.
The incidence of HIV is approximately three times greater in males than in women.
Among heterosexuals, male-to-female transmission is much more likely to occur than female-to-male transmission.
The incidence of HIV transmission is lower in
A test for the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) is done to:
Detect an HIV infection. Testing is often done for people with risk factors for HIV infection and people who have symptoms of an HIV infection.
Screen blood, blood products, and organ donors to prevent the spread of HIV.
Screen pregnant women for HIV infection. The United States Preventive Services Task Force recommends all pregnant women be screened. Pregnant women who are infected with HIV and receive treatment are less likely to pass the infection on to their babies than are women who do not receive treatment.
Find out if a baby born to an HIV-positive woman also is infected with HIV. PCR is often done in this case because the baby may get antibodies against HIV from the mother and yet not be infected.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommend HIV screening as part of routine blood testing. You and your doctor can decide if testing is right for you.
This test is not done to determine if a person has AIDS. A diagnosis of AIDS means a person is HIV-positive and other problems are present.