HIV stands for human immunodeficiency virus. This virus attacks the body’s immune system and weakens your body’s ability to fight infections. More than 1.2 million people in the US are living with HIV, and 1 in 8 of them doesn’t know it. The only way to know for sure if you or someone else has been infected is to get an HIV test. Testing is relatively simple. You can ask your health care provider for an HIV test or purchase a home testing kit. If left untreated, HIV can lead to a disease called AIDS (acquired immunodeficiency syndrome), which is the stage of infection that occurs when your immune system is badly damaged and you become vulnerable to opportunistic infections.
How is HIV spread?
HIV is mainly spread through blood and sexual contact.
HIV does not spread through:
Touching, social kissing, coughing or sneezing
Contact with eating utensils, water fountains, toilet seats, telephones or computer keyboards
Teardrops, saliva or sweat
Using a public swimming pool, restroom or gymnasium
Being close to other people, such as in a classroom, restaurant or any crowded mode of transportation
How do I prevent the spread of HIV?
Protect yourself or your partner by always using a latex condom during sexual intercourse, even if your partner is also infected. Each person’s HIV responds to their specific medication regimen. If body fluids from two HIV-positive people are mixed due to sexual relations it could cause your strain of HIV to become drug resistant (Drug resistance testing can determine if your strain of HIV is resistant to any anti-HIV medications).
Avoid all sexual activities which could cause cuts or tears in the lining of the rectum, vagina or penis.
Do not share needles.
Do not share toothbrushes or razor blades.
There is a risk that HIV can be spread to the fetus during pregnancy. Taking anti-viral medication can help reduce the risk to the baby (it will not remove the risk).
Do not donate blood, plasma, semen, bone marrow or any other organs.
Current and previous sexual partners or needle- sharing partners should be informed so that they can be tested, seek care if needed, and avoid passing on HIV to others.
You should inform your health care providers of your HIV status.
What are symptoms of HIV?
When first infected with HIV, you may have no signs or symptoms at all, even though you are still able to transmit the virus to others. Signs and symptoms may include:
- Sore throat
- Swollen lymph glands
You may remain symptom-free but the virus may be continuing to multiply and destroy your immune system. Mild infections or chronic symptoms may include:
- Soaking night sweats
- Shaking chills or fever higher than 101°F (38.5°C) for several weeks
- Persistent fatigue
- Persistent white spots or unusual lesions on your tongue or mouth.
- Blurred vision
- Weight loss
- Skin rash or bum
What are opportunistic infections?
Opportunistic infections are infections that are normally uncommon but become more prevalent if you have a weakened immune system.
Infections Associated with HIV and AIDS
A lung disease that is the most common opportunistic infection associated with HIV.
Common infection due to contaminated food or water. To prevent this, drink clean water and always fully cook your food.
Common herpes virus that is dormant (sleeping) in your body until your body becomes weak, then the virus will resurface, causing damage to eyes, digestive tract, lungs and other organs. A regular eye exam by an ophthalmologist who is aware of the HIV status is recommended.
Common yeast infection. Thick white coating on the mucus membrane of the mouth, tongue or vagina.
Meningitis is an inflammation of the membranes and fluid surrounding the brain and spinal cord. Most common symptoms include neck stiffness, headache, or persistent high fever.
Potentially deadly infection caused by intestinal parasite that’s commonly found in cats. The best prevention is to avoid contact with cat litter box contents.
Infection caused by intestinal parasite found in animals that lead to severe, chronic diarrhea.
What other common complications related to HIV?
This is an involuntary weight loss of 10% of body weight in addition to more than 30 days of diarrhea or weakness and fever.
Confusion, forgetfulness, depression, anxiety and trouble walking. Most commonly called “AIDS dementia”, which can lead to mood disorders and decreased mental abilities.
Tumor of the blood vessel walls. Pink, red or purple lesions on the skin and mouth.
Type of cancer that originates from white blood cells. Usually begins in the lymph nodes. The most common early sign is painless swelling in neck, armpit or groin.