What is HIV/AIDS?
Human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) is the virus that causes acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS). The term AIDS applies to the most advanced stages of HIV infections.
HIV kills or damages cells of the body’s immune system and, over time, destroys the body’s ability to fight infections and certain cancers. HIV is spread most commonly through contact with infected bodily fluids. For example, HIV may be spread through having sex with an infected partner or by sharing needles for injection drug use with someone infected with the virus. Women with HIV can transmit the virus to their babies during pregnancy, birth, or breastfeeding, but proper treatment greatly reduces this risk.
Many people do not have symptoms when they first become infected with HIV. During this period, the virus is actively multiplying and infecting and killing cells of the immune system, and people are highly infectious. As the immune system is damaged, symptoms begin to appear and may include:
- Swollen glands, or enlarged lymph nodes
- Lack of energy
- Weight loss
- Frequent fevers and sweats
- Persistent or frequent yeast infections
- Persistent skin rashes or flaky skin
- Pelvic inflammatory disease in women that does not get better with treatment
- Short-term memory loss.
Once HIV advances to AIDS, many people have symptoms so severe they can no longer work or do daily tasks at home. Other people with AIDS may experience periods of life-threatening illness followed by periods in which they can function normally.