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Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) Infection (cont.)

What Increases Your Risk

Most people get HIV by having unprotected sex with someone who has HIV. Another common way of getting the virus is by sharing needles with someone who is infected with HIV when injecting drugs.

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 disease, such as syphilis or active herpes.

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.

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

What to think about

HIV may be spread more easily in the early stage of infection, and again later, when symptoms of HIV-related illness develop.

The risk of getting HIV from a blood transfusion or organ transplant is extremely low because all donated blood and organs in the United States are screened for HIV.

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:

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 or 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, mouth, or increased outbreaks of cold sores
  • Personality changes or 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

Many people have a flu-like illness 3 to 6 weeks after they are first infected with HIV, but symptoms can occur within a few days of infection. Symptoms of acute retroviral syndrome (such as nausea and headache), which are the first signs of HIV infection, are often mistaken for symptoms of another viral infection.

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)

Initial symptoms of HIV infection may be mild to severe and usually disappear on their own after 2 to 3 weeks.

Suspected or known exposure to HIV but symptoms are not present

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 develop 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. Early detection and monitoring of HIV will help your doctor find out whether the disease is getting worse and when to start treatment.

Watchful waiting

Until you know the results of your test:

If you do not have symptoms of HIV even though you have tested positive for the virus, you and your doctor may simply continue to watch for symptoms to occur. If you do not 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 your viral load and CD4+ cell counts. These tests measure the amount of HIV in your blood and detect 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 do not 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 have questions about the testing procedure, ask your doctor to explain the procedure to you.

If you do not 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: 1-800-232-4636 (1-800-CDC-INFO) or see the CDC National HIV Testing Resources Web site at www.hivtest.org.
  • National Association of People with AIDS (NAPWA) hotline: 1-866-846-9366 (toll-free). Or see the NAPWA Web site at www.napwa.org.
  • U.S. National Institutes of Health (NIH) toll-free HIV hotline: 1-800-448-0440 (1-800-HIV-0440). Or see the NIH AIDS Web site 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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