What is HIV?
HIV (human immunodeficiency virus) is the virus that causes
"AIDS". This virus may be passed from one person to another when infected blood, semen, or vaginal secretions come in contact with an uninfected person’s broken skin or mucous membranes*. In addition, infected pregnant women can pass HIV to their baby during
"pregnancy" or delivery, as well as through breast-feeding. People with HIV have what is called HIV infection. Some of these people will develop
"AIDS" as a result of their
What is HIV syndrome?
HIV syndrome is a name for the early stage of HIV infection, when a person is first infected with HIV (HIV stands for human immunodeficiency virus). When first infected with HIV, a person may not experience any symptoms. However, often a person will develop flu-like symptoms that last several weeks. These include:
A tired feeling
Swollen lymph nodes
Joint and muscle aches
If you have recently been infected with HIV, you might not realize it. The person you caught HIV from may not look or feel sick. And the signs and symptoms of HIV infection are similar to other illnesses, such as mononucleosis (mono),
"tonsillitis" or the flu.
How Is the Virus Transmitted?
HIV lies in blood and other body fluids that contain blood or white blood cells. People have got HIV through: unprotected sexual intercourse with an HIV-infected person. This includes vaginal or anal intercourse, and oral sex on a man or woman without a condom or other medium. Intercourse while a woman is having her period, or during outbreaks of genital sores or lesions (caused by herpes and other sexually transmitted diseases) can increase the risk of HIV transmission. sharing drug injection equipment (needles and/or works); or being accidentally stuck by needles or sharp objects contaminated with infected blood. Infected blood used in transfusions, and infected blood products used in the treatment of certain diseases and disorders (like hemophilia), before March, 1985. (Since 1985, federally mandated screening of the blood supply has reduced the risk of transmission through this route to 1 in 255,000.) pregnancy, childbirth, and/or breastfeeding, where the virus is passed from mother to child. transplanted organs from infected donors. (Routine screening of organ donors also began in 1985.) HIV and AIDS are not transmitted through casual contact (that is, where no blood or body fluids are involved). HIV is what gets passed from person to person. People don't "catch AIDS; they "become infected with HIV."
What Does an "HIV-Positive" Test Result Mean?
A positive test result means your body has been infected by the human immunodeficiency virus-and that you are capable of transmitting it to others. The test did not look for the actual virus itself, but found evidence of it in your blood. There's no way to tell from this result who gave you the virus, how long you've had it, or when it will begin to affect your health. You may see or hear the results called "HIV-positive," "HIV+," "HIV-antibody positive," or "seropositive for HIV." These terms all mean the same thing. People who have been infected with the human immunodeficiency virus are said to have "HIV disease." While the virus itself is not a disease, it progressively damages the body's immune system. This puts you at risk for developing illnesses you wouldn't otherwise get.
At this time, doctors don't know of any way to rid the body of
HIV . There is no cure. Once you've been infected, you have it for life.
What happens after a person gets
After being infected with
HIV , your body works hard to attack the virus. With your body fighting, the virus can't make as many copies of itself. Even though you still have HIV, you'll begin to look well and feel well again. The usual blood tests will be normal.
However, during this time, the virus is still attacking your lymph nodes. Lymph nodes are the centers of your body's immune system. The virus may also attack your brain tissue and slowly cause damage there.
Over 10 to 15 years, HIV kills so many CD4 cells that your body can no longer fight off infections. When your CD4 cell count is 200 or less per mL, you have
AIDS (a normal count is 600 to 1000). Once you have
AIDS (which stands for acquired immunodeficiency syndrome), you can easily catch many serious infections.
Why is HIV dangerous?
The immune system is a group of cells and organs that protect your body by fighting disease. The human immune system usually finds and kills viruses fairly quickly.
So if the body's immune system attacks and kills viruses, what's the problem?
Different viruses attack different parts of the body - some may attack the skin, others the lungs, and so on. The common cold is caused by a virus. What makes HIV so dangerous is that it attacks the immune system itself - the very thing that would normally get rid of a virus. It particularly attacks a special type of immune system cell known as a CD4 lymphocyte.
HIV has a number of tricks that help it to evade the body's defences, including very rapid mutation. This means that once HIV has taken hold, the immune system can never fully get rid of it.
There isn't any way to tell just by looking if someone's been infected by
HIV . In fact a person infected with HIV may look and feel perfectly well for many years and may not know that they are infected. But as the person's immune system weakens they become increasingly vulnerable to illnesses, many of which they would previously have fought off easily.
The only reliable way to tell whether someone has
HIV is for them to take a blood test, which can detect infection from a few weeks after the virus first entered the body.
Without drug treatment, HIV infection usually progresses to
AIDS in an average of ten years. This average, though, is based on a person having a reasonable diet. Someone who is malnourished may well progress to
AIDS and death more rapidly.
Antiretroviral medication can prolong the time between HIV infection and the onset of
AIDS. Modern combination therapy is highly effective and, theoretically, someone with
HIV can live for a long time before it becomes
AIDS. These medicines, however, are not widely available in many poor countries around the world, and millions of people who cannot access medication continue to die.
A damaged immune system is not only more vulnerable to HIV, but also to the attacks of other infections. It won't always have the strength to fight off things that wouldn't have bothered it before.
As time goes by, a person who has been infected with HIV is likely to become ill more and more often until, usually several years after infection, they become ill with one of a number of particularly severe illnesses. It is at this point in the stages of HIV infection that they are said to have
AIDS - when they first become seriously ill, or when the number of immune system cells left in their body drops below a particular point. Different countries have slightly different ways of defining the point at which a person is said to have AIDS rather than HIV.
Does it help me to find out I have HIV at an early stage?
Yes. Right now, there is no cure for HIV. Your body can make antibodies and CD4 cells to slow down the progress of HIV, but they can't totally get rid of the virus. In fact, the very act of attacking the HIV infection may wear out your immune system in a short time.
However, treatment with HIV medicines (usually a combination of medicines) can hold down the virus and keep your body's immune system strong for a longer time. That's why the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends early treatment of people with HIV.