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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.

How is HIV/AIDS spread?

HIV is spread most commonly through contact with infected bodily fluids.

  • HIV may be spread through having sex with an infected partner or by sharing needles with someone infected with the virus.
  • Women with HIV can transmit the virus to their babies during pregnancy, birth, or breastfeeding.
  • Proper treatment greatly reduces the risk of spreading HIV.

What are the signs and symptoms of HIV/AIDS?

Many people do not have symptoms when they first become infected with HIV. During this period in which people are highly infectious, the virus is actively multiplying and infecting and killing cells of the immune system.

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.

What treatments are available, and how effective are they?

HIV can be effectively treated with highly active antiretroviral therapy (HAART), also sometimes just called ART. ART involves taking a combination of three or more medications regularly. Your doctor can help determine which combination is right for you.

ART helps to control the amount of virus in the body and protect the body's immune system. Taking the medications as directed can also help prevent the virus from becoming drug resistant. In addition to ART, some people with HIV may benefit from other treatments such as behavioral therapy or medications to treat other health problems.

For more information

The following webpages have more information about HIV/AIDS, including how you can tell if you are infected with HIV: