Human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) is a viral infection. It attacks white blood cells called T-cells (CD4). They help the body fight infections and diseases. If you have HIV, it can leave you at risk for many health problems.
AIDS is a late stage of HIV. Immune system damage from HIV allows opportunistic infections (OIs) to take hold in the body.
HIV-1 or HIV-2 viruses cause infection. HIV spreads between people from direct contact with fluids from the body of someone who has it. This means blood, semen, vaginal fluid, and breast milk.
HIV destroys T-cells, leading to AIDS.
You can get HIV by:
Rarely, HIV spreads by:
A mother can pass HIV to her child during pregnancy, birth, or breastfeeding.
Your chances of HIV are higher if you:
Having HIV is the only risk factor for developing AIDS.
HIV may not cause problems for a number of years. Early symptoms may appear 1-2 months after infection. They’re similar to the flu:
The symptoms will pass on their own, but the virus remains. You may not have problems for months to years. Over time, it’s harder to fight infections. Many symptoms on the list above come back. In addition, you may notice:
Without care, HIV infection progresses to AIDS. People with AIDS are at high risk for OIs that happen anywhere in the body. AIDs may cause:
The doctor will ask about your symptoms. You will also be asked about your health and sexual history. Your answers and a physical exam may point to HIV. You may also have:
Medicines can prevent or slow progression to AIDS in many people. A combination of antiviral medicines are often used. These may include:
Medicines help fight or stop OIs for those with AIDS. These may include antibiotics or antifungal medicines.
To lower your chances of HIV:
If you work with people or are in a household where HIV is present:
If you have HIV:
AMFAR—The Foundation for AIDS Research
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
AIDS Committee of Toronto
Canadian AIDS Society
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Pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP). AIDS website. Available at: https://www.hiv.gov/hiv-basics/hiv-prevention/using-hiv-medication-to-reduce-risk/pre-exposure-prophylaxis. Accessed May 30, 2018.
Preventing transmission of HIV. AIDS info website. Available at: https://aidsinfo.nih.gov/understanding-hiv-aids/fact-sheets/20/48/the-basics-of-hiv-prevention. Updated May 24, 2018. Accessed May 30, 2018.
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Last reviewed May 2018 by EBSCO Medical Review Board David L. Horn, MD, FACP
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.