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HIV Transmission and the History of HIV/AIDS

What Is HIV/AIDS?

Acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS) is an older term for the symptoms and illness caused by infection with the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV). In the past, doctors referred to AIDS or "full-blown AIDS" as a separate and more serious phase of the infection. With modern treatments, HIV disease is managed as a long-term illness, and the use of "AIDS" to refer to a separate phase is no longer necessary. Therefore, HIV is now referred to as HIV disease or HIV/AIDS. HIV infects many cells in the body, but the most important ones that cause medical illness are the cells of the immune system.

What Causes HIV/AIDS?

HIV may cause a brief illness and rash during the very early phase of infection, and it may mimic many common virus infections like the common cold, influenza, or even mononucleosis. More often, early infection causes no symptoms, and the person infected is not aware. As HIV infects more and more immune cells over time, the immune cells start to decline and the person is not able to fight off infections. The lower the immune cells drop, the more and more unusual infections begin to occur. Eventually, the person seeks medical care, and HIV infection is often diagnosed at this point in HIV disease.

Research has also suggested that long-term infection with HIV causes long-term inflammation that may lead to conditions such as heart disease, diabetes, stroke, and more; these conditions are found to occur at younger ages in those infected with HIV than in those who are not. Current health guidelines recommend HIV testing for all teens and adults who are sexually active or are exposed to blood and body fluid products. This is recommended at least once in a lifetime, each time a woman is pregnant, and more frequently if the person has risk factors for becoming infected with HIV.

By discovering HIV infection early, effective treatment can be offered to improve the long-term effectiveness of the treatments, prevent babies from being born with HIV or acquiring it from breastfeeding, prevent spread of infection to others, and reduce inflammation-related conditions like diabetes that may reduce quality of life and life span. Early detection of HIV infection also alerts doctors to screen for other diseases that are acquired in the same ways as HIV and may affect health.

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 8/31/2017

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HIV AIDS Symptoms and Signs

What Are Signs and Symptoms of HIV/AIDS?

Many people with HIV do not know they are infected. In the United States, it is likely that 14% of HIV-positive individuals are unaware of their infection. HIV infection progresses in three very general stages.

  • Stage 1: Acute HIV Infection
  • Stage 2: Clinical Latency Stage (HIV Dormancy)
  • Stage 3: Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome (AIDS)


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