How Does AIDS Start?

Reviewed on 9/14/2021

AIDS (acquired immune deficiency syndrome) is a virus that attacks the body's immune system. It starts as an infection with the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), and AIDS is the late stage of HIV infection.
AIDS (acquired immune deficiency syndrome) is a virus that attacks the body’s immune system. It starts as an infection with the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), and AIDS is the late stage of HIV infection.

AIDS (acquired immune deficiency syndrome) starts as an infection with the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), a virus that attacks the body’s immune system. AIDS is the late stage of HIV infection.

The human immunodeficiency virus is transmitted via blood or through sexual intercourse and exposure to other bodily fluids (such as semen or vaginal fluids) from a person with HIV. HIV is NOT spread by casual contact.

Can You Stop HIV from Progressing to AIDS?

Untreated HIV infection can progress to become AIDS but, in the U.S., most people infected with HIV do not go on to develop AIDS because HIV medications are available to stop disease progression.

  • HIV infection can occur if a person:
  • Has unprotected vaginal, anal, or oral sex with a person infected with HIV
  • Shares needles or syringes with someone who has HIV
  • A pregnant woman can transmit HIV to her baby during pregnancy, birth, or breastfeeding
    • This is no longer common with the use of HIV medications during and after pregnancy

Risk factors for contracting human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) include:

  • Men who have sex with other men
  • Drug users who share needles or “works”
  • Sexual partners of people infected with HIV
  • People who have unprotected sex with multiple partners
  • People with a history of a sexually transmitted disease (STD)
  • Victims of sexual assault 
  • People who exchange sex for money or drugs or have sex partners who do
  • Anyone accidentally stuck with a needle or sharp in a health care facility
  • Receiving a blood transfusion or other blood product before 1984 
    • Blood products were not routinely screened for HIV prior to 1984

What Are Symptoms of AIDS?

Early symptoms of human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) typically develop two to four weeks following infection with the virus and include: 

If HIV is not treated, after several years symptoms of AIDS can develop and may include:

  • Recurrent fever
  • Night sweats
  • Swelling of lymph nodes in the neck, armpits, or groin
  • Stomach pain
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Persistent diarrhea 
  • Rapid weight loss
  • Red, brown, pink, or purplish blotches on or under the skin or inside the mouth, nose, or eyelids
  • Sores on the mouth, anus, or genitals
  • Memory loss, depression, and other neurologic disorders
  • Opportunistic infections
    • Lung infections such as pneumonia that can cause shortness of breath
    • Eye infections that cause trouble seeing and blurred vision
    • Candidiasis of the mouth (oral thrush) that can cause soreness and raised, white patches
    • Brain infections

SLIDESHOW

A Timeline of the HIV/AIDS Pandemic See Slideshow

How Is AIDS Diagnosed?

  • Human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), the virus that causes AIDS (acquired immune deficiency syndrome), is diagnosed with either a blood test or a saliva (spit) test. 
  • AIDS is diagnosed when a patient’s CD4 cell count drops below 200 cells/mm, or if they develop certain opportunistic infections.

What Is the Treatment for AIDS?

Human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) is treated with different combinations of antiretroviral medicines to help control infection.

Once HIV develops into AIDS (acquired immune deficiency syndrome), there is no cure, but medications are used to reduce the amount of HIV virus in the body, keep the immune system healthy, and decrease the complications of the disease.

Medications used to treat AIDS include: 

  • Protease inhibitors (PI)
  • Nucleoside reverse transcriptase inhibitors (NRTI)
  • Non-nucleoside reverse transcriptase inhibitors (NNRTI)
  • Fusion inhibitors
  • Highly active antiretroviral therapy (HAART)

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Reviewed on 9/14/2021
References
https://www.uptodate.com/contents/hiv-aids-the-basics?search=hiv&source=search_result&selectedTitle=4~150&usage_type=default&display_rank=4

https://www.uptodate.com/contents/symptoms-of-hiv-infection-beyond-the-basics?search=hiv&source=search_result&selectedTitle=11~150&usage_type=default&display_rank=11

https://www.hiv.gov/hiv-basics/overview/about-hiv-and-aids/what-are-hiv-and-aids

https://www.uptodate.com/contents/acute-and-early-hiv-infection-treatment?search=hiv%20treatment&source=search_result&selectedTitle=1~150&usage_type=default&display_rank=1

https://www.sfaf.org/collections/beta/life-expectancies-close-to-80-years-for-young-people-starting-hiv-meds-early/

https://www.hiv.gov/hiv-basics/overview/about-hiv-and-aids/symptoms-of-hiv