HIV 101: What is HIV and AIDS?

Home Health News HIV 101: What is HIV and AIDS?
Two hands holding a red ribbon in support of HIV and AIDS.

HIV 101: What is HIV and AIDS?

HIV, or Human Immunodeficiency Virus, is a viral infection which affects the body’s immune system, making it unable to function properly and fight off disease and infection. If you become infected with HIV you might develop AIDS.

AIDS stands for Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome. A diagnosis of AIDS is made by a physician using specific clinical or laboratory standards. This can include the development of certain infections and/or cancers. Before the development of certain medications, people with HIV could progress to AIDS in just a few years. With today’s treatment options people with HIV are living much longer – even decades without developing AIDS.

How is HIV transmitted?

HIV can be transmitted through exposure to HIV infected bodily fluids, specifically:

  • Blood
  • Semen
  • Vaginal Secretions
  • Breast Milk

What activities can transmit HIV?

  • Having unprotected sex (oral, vaginal, or anal) with someone who is infected with HIV
  • Sharing needles or syringes (known as “works”) with someone who is infected with HIV. This includes sharing needles to: Inject drugs or vitamins, pierce body parts, and tattoos
  • A woman with HIV can pass the virus to her child at birth and through breast feeding, although this is rare in the United States.
  • Receiving HIV-infected blood products or a blood transfusion between 1978 and 1985

What are the symptoms of HIV?

The symptoms of HIV vary, depending on the phase of infection.

Primary or Acute infection.

Many people who are infected with HIV do not experience any symptoms for many years. For those that do, they will most likely occur during the “primary or acute infection”-within six to 12 weeks after infection. Symptoms may only last a few days and include:

  • Fever
  • Headache
  • Chills
  • Night sweats
  • Lack of energy
  • Rashes

These symptoms are similar to many other viral infections, including the flu so it is impossible to diagnose HIV on symptoms alone.

Early symptomatic HIV infection.

Many people who are infected with HIV do not experience any symptoms until the “early symptomatic HIV infection” which might not present for eight to 10 years after infection. Symptoms of early symptomatic HIV infection include:

  • Fever
  • Fatigue
  • Swollen lymph nodes
  • Diarrhea
  • Weight loss
  • Cough
  • Shortness of breath.

The only way to determine if you have HIV is to get tested!

What if I test positive for HIV?

Testing positive for HIV can be scary but it is not a death sentence. Although there is no cure for HIV, seeking HIV care, medical services and support is extremely beneficial in managing HIV. Current treatment options help to control HIV and prevent many opportunistic infections that make HIV-positive individuals sick.

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