What is HIV and AIDS?

HIV stands for human immunodeficiency virus. It weakens a person’s immune system by destroying important cells that fight disease and infection. No effective cure exists for HIV, but with proper medical care HIV can be controlled. 

HIV is spread by contact with infected bodily fluids such as blood, semen, vaginal fluids, breast milk and salivia. Preventative measures include limiting the number of sexual partners, never sharing needles, and using condoms the right way every time.

New mothers who are HIV positive should avoid breastfeeding to prevent transmission to their newborn. For older children, avoid feeding food premasticated by an HIV positive individual.

Newer prevention methods include pre-exposure prophylaxis [WP1] (PrEP) and post-exposure prophylaxis [WP2] (PEP) which involve taking medicine before or after potential exposure to prevent infection. In addition, persons who take their medicine to treat HIV as prescribed and whose viral load stays undetectable have effectively no risk of transmitting HIV to an HIV-negative partner through sex.

Treatment with ART can dramatically prolong the lives of people infected with HIV Before the introduction of ART in the mid-1990s, people with HIV could progress to AIDS in just a few years. Today, someone diagnosed with HIV and treated before the disease is far advanced can have a nearly normal life expectancy.

HIV attacks the body's immune system. Specifically, it affects the white blood cells of the immune system, called CD4 cells, or T cells. White blood cells protect the body by attacking foreign pathogens in the blood. Over time, HIV can destroy so many of these cells that the body can’t fight off infections and disease. When this happens, the body's defenses are weakened, leading to opportunistic infections (OIs) and AIDS-related cancers. OIs are infections that a healthy immune system can fight off but they cause serious illness in HIV infected persons. Based on the CD4 count (cells/ml) HIV infection is classified as stage 1(CD4 count > 500), stage 2 (CD4 count 200-499) and stage 3, AIDS (CD4 count <200). In Stage 3 disease, or AIDS, the individual is susceptible to infections and tumors.

last revised 02/19/2020

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