HIV (human immunodeficiency virus) is a virus that attacks the body's immune system, which is responsible for fighting infections. If HIV infection is not treated, the body does not fight infections or cancer as well as healthy people and people who have HIV can become sick easily.
Acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS) is the late stage of HIV infection. HIV medicines are available that can stop the progression of the disease so most people infected with HIV in the U.S. do not develop AIDS.
How Do You Get HIV?
HIV infection is caused by exposure to the human immunodeficiency virus. The virus is transmitted via blood or through sexual intercourse and exposure to bodily fluids (such as semen or vaginal fluids) from a person with HIV. HIV infection is NOT spread by casual contact.
Main Causes of HIV
HIV infection can occur if a person:
- Has unprotected sex (without using a condom) with a person who has HIV
- This includes vaginal, anal, and oral sex
- This is the main way people become infected with HIV
- 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
Risk factors for getting infected with HIV include:
- Men having sex with other men
- Being a sexual partner of a person infected with HIV
- Having unprotected sex with multiple partners
- Drug users who share needles or “works”
- A history of a sexually transmitted disease (STD)
- Victims of sexual assault
- Exchanging sex for money or drugs or having sex partners who do
- Being 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)
What Are Symptoms of HIV?
Early Signs of HIV
Early symptoms of HIV (human immunodeficiency virus), referred to as primary or acute HIV infection, usually occur two to four weeks after infection with the virus and include:
- Flu-like symptoms
- Swollen lymph nodes
- Muscle pain
- Sore throat
- Joint pain
- Skin rash
- Lack of appetite
- Weight loss
- Dry cough
- Painful open sores or ulcers that can develop in the mouth, the esophagus, the anus, or the penis (only occurs in a small proportion of those exposed to the virus)
Early symptoms last about two weeks, are usually mild, and people often don’t even realize they have HIV yet.
Late-Stage Symptoms of HIV
After several years, if HIV is not treated, other symptoms may develop, including:
- Swelling of lymph nodes, usually in the neck, armpit, or groin
- Stomach pain
- Weight loss
- Opportunistic infections
How Is HIV Diagnosed?
- HIV (human immunodeficiency virus) is diagnosed with either a blood test or a saliva test.
- Rapid HIV test results are available in minutes, though some test results can take days.
- HIV home test kits may also be available at some pharmacies. Tests are mailed to a lab for testing. If home HIV test kit results come back positive, see your doctor.
What Is the Treatment for HIV?
HIV (human immunodeficiency virus) is treated with different combinations of antiretroviral medicines to control the infection.
Early HIV infection is usually treated with one of the following antiretroviral therapy (ART) regimens:
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