What Is HIV?
HIV (human immunodeficiency virus) is a virus that attacks cells that help the body fight infection, making a person more vulnerable to other infections and diseases. It is spread by contact with certain bodily fluids of a person with HIV, most commonly during unprotected sex (sex without a condom or HIV medicine to prevent or treat HIV), or through sharing injection drug equipment.
If left untreated, HIV can lead to the disease AIDS (acquired immunodeficiency syndrome).
Meanwhile, around 80% of people with HIV develop flu-like symptoms around 2–6 weeks after contracting the infection. These symptoms are collectively called acute retroviral syndrome.
Early symptoms of HIV may include:
- a fever
- sweating, particularly at night
- enlarged glands or swollen lymph nodes
- a diffuse rash
- pain, including joint pain
- muscle aches
- a sore throat
- thrush, or a yeast infection
- unintentional weight loss, with advancing HIV
These symptoms result from the immune system fighting off different types of infection. Anyone who has several of these symptoms and may have contracted HIV in the past 2–6 weeks should take a test.
HIV spreads when an infected person’s blood, semen, or rectal or vaginal fluids get into your bloodstream. The most common ways for this to happen are through unprotected anal or vaginal sex or sharing needles or syringes with an HIV-positive person.
Pregnant women who are HIV-positive can pass the virus to their baby before or during birth. HIV can also pass to a baby through breastfeeding. But the risk is very low for women who take HIV medicine.
It’s possible, but not common, for health care workers to become infected if they have an accidental needle stick while treating someone who has HIV.
The human body can’t get rid of HIV and no effective cure exists. HIV is a lifelong condition, but treatments and certain strategies can prevent the virus from transmitting and the infection from progressing.
Antiretroviral therapy (ART). ART can make HIV infection a manageable chronic condition. It also reduces the risk of spreading the virus to others.
Most people with HIV live long and healthy lives if they get and stay on ART. It's also important to take care of yourself. Making sure that you have the support you need, living a healthy lifestyle, and getting regular medical care can help you enjoy a better quality of life.
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