HIV stands for human immunodeficiency virus, which is the virus that causes HIV infection. The abbreviation “HIV” can refer to the virus or to HIV infection.
AIDS stands for acquired immunodeficiency syndrome. AIDS is the most advanced stage of HIV infection.
HIV attacks and destroys the infection-fighting CD4 cells of the immune system. The loss of CD4 cells makes it difficult for the body to fight off infections and certain cancers. Without treatment, HIV can gradually destroy the immune system and advance to AIDS.
The spread of HIV from person to person is called HIV transmission. HIV is spread only in certain body fluids from a person who has HIV. These body fluids include blood, semen, pre-seminal fluid, vaginal fluids, rectal fluids, breast milk. HIV transmission is only possible through contact with HIV-infected body fluids.
– Having anal or vaginal sex with someone who has HIV without using a condom or taking medicines to prevent or treat HIV
– Sharing injection drug equipment (works), such as needles, with someone who has HIV
The spread of HIV from a woman with HIV to her child during pregnancy, childbirth, or breastfeeding is called mother-to-child transmission of HIV.
You can’t get HIV by shaking hands or hugging a person who has HIV. You also can’t get HIV from contact with objects such as dishes, toilet seats, or doorknobs used by a person with HIV. HIV is not spread through the air or in water or by mosquitoes, ticks, or other blood-sucking insects.
Within 2 to 4 weeks after infection with HIV, some people may have flu-like symptoms, such as fever, chills, or rash. The symptoms may last for a few days to several weeks. During this earliest stage of HIV infection, the virus multiplies rapidly.
After the initial stage of infection, HIV continues to multiply but at very low levels. More severe symptoms of HIV infection, such as signs of opportunistic infections, generally don’t appear for many years. (Opportunistic infections are infections and infection-related cancers that occur more frequently or are more severe in people with weakened immune systems than in people with healthy immune systems.)
Without treatment with HIV medicines, HIV infection usually advances to AIDS in 10 years or longer, though it may advance faster in some people.
HIV transmission is possible at any stage of HIV infection—even if a person with HIV has no symptoms of HIV.
Symptoms such as fever, weakness, and weight loss may be a sign that a person’s HIV has advanced to AIDS. However, a diagnosis of AIDS is based on the following criteria:
– A drop in CD4 count to less than 200 cells/mm3. A CD4 count measures the number of CD4 cells in a sample of blood. OR
– The presence of certain opportunistic infections.
Although an AIDS diagnosis indicates severe damage to the immune system, HIV medicines can still help people at this stage of HIV infection.
The treatment for HIV is called antiretroviral therapy (ART). ART involves taking a combination of HIV medicines (called an HIV treatment regimen) every day. ART is recommended for everyone who has HIV. ART can’t cure HIV, but HIV medicines help people with HIV live longer, healthier lives. ART also reduces the risk of HIV transmission.
Anyone can get HIV, but you can take steps to protect yourself from HIV infection.
– Get tested and know your partner’s HIV status. Talk to your partner about HIV testing and get tested before you have sex.
– Choose less risky sexual behaviors. HIV is mainly spread by having anal or vaginal sex without condom or without taking medicines to prevent or treat HIV.
– Use condoms. Use a condom correctly every time you have sex.
– Limit your number of sexual partners. The more partners you have, the more likely you are to have a partner with poorly controlled HIV or to have a partner with a sexually transmitted disease (STD).
– Get tested and treated for STDs. Insist that your partners get tested and treated, too. Having an STD can increase your risk of becoming infected with HIV or spreading it to others.
– Talk to your health care provider about pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP). PrEP is an HIV prevention option for people who don’t have HIV but who are at high risk of becoming infected with HIV. PrEP involves taking a specific HIV medicine every day.
– Don’t inject drugs. But if you do, use only sterile drug injection equipment and water and never share your equipment with others.