Human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) is a virus that attacks the body's immune system, which is responsible for fighting infections. People with untreated HIV infection don’t fight off infections or cancer as well as healthy people and they can become sick easily.
While there is no cure for HIV, in the U.S., most people infected with HIV do not go on to develop AIDS because of the availability of antiretroviral therapy (ART) medications that can stop the progression of the disease. If HIV is caught early, the infection can be controlled.
Early HIV infection is often treated with one of the following antiretroviral therapy (ART) regimens:
- Dolutegravir plus tenofovir and either emtricitabine or lamivudine
- Bictegravir-tenofovir alafenamide-emtricitabine
- Ritonavir-boosted darunavir plus tenofovir and either emtricitabine or lamivudine
What Are Early Symptoms of Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV)?
Early symptoms of human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) are referred to as primary or acute HIV infection. These symptoms usually occur two to four weeks after a person is infected with the virus and include:
- Flu-like symptoms
- Sore throat
- Swollen lymph nodes
- Joint pain
- Muscle pain
- Skin rash
- Lack of appetite
- Weight loss
- Dry cough
Painful open sores or ulcers in the mouth, the esophagus, the anus, or the penis (only occurs in a small proportion of those exposed to the virus)
These first symptoms last about 2 weeks and are usually mild. Many people don’t even recognize they have HIV at this stage.
What Causes Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV)?
Human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) infection is caused by exposure to the human immunodeficiency virus. The 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 infection is NOT spread by casual contact.
HIV infection can occur if a person:
- Has unprotected sex (without using a condom) with someone who has HIV
- This includes vaginal, anal, and oral sex
- Shares needles or syringes with a person infected with HIV
- A pregnant woman can transmit HIV to her baby during pregnancy, birth, or breastfeeding
- This is uncommon with the use of HIV medications during and after pregnancy
People who are at increased risk of HIV infection include:
- Men who have sex with other men
- Drug users who share needles or “works”
- Sexual partners of people who are infected with HIV
- People who have unprotected sex with multiple partners
- People with a history of a sexually transmitted disease (STD)
- People who exchange sex for money or drugs or have sex partners who do
- Victims of sexual assault
- Anyone accidentally stuck with a needle or sharp in a health care facility
- People who received a blood transfusion or other blood products before 1984
- Blood products were not routinely screened for HIV prior to 1984
How Is Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) Diagnosed?
Human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) is diagnosed with either a blood test or a saliva (spit) test.
Rapid HIV test results are available in minutes, though some test results can take days.
There are also HIV test kits available at some pharmacies that can be used at home. One test uses a special strip to collect a small amount of blood, and another kit has a strip that is wiped on the gums. The strips are mailed to a lab for testing. If you use an at-home HIV test kit and results come back positive, see your doctor.
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