What is HIV & AIDS?

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What is HIV & AIDS?

LiveScience Staff
Date: 30 July 2012 Time: 10:35 AM ET

Definition of HIV & AIDS: HIV is a virus that attacks the immune system and damages the body’s ability to fight infections. AIDS is a potentially fatal condition that develops in the most advanced stage of HIV. Below is a brief overview of the causes, symptoms and treatments, plus links to more information.

image of an hiv virus
The therapeutic vaccines in development are all designed to give the body’s immune system a way to recognize, and then to fight, HIV particles (virus shown above).
CREDIT: Sebastian Kaulitzki | Shutterstock

What Causes HIV & AIDS? HIV attacks and destroys cells, known as CD4 cells, of the immune system. A person is considered to have AIDS if CD4 cell counts in the blood drop below a threshold or if the person has an AIDS-defining condition such as tuberculosis or toxoplasmosis. HIV may take years to progress to AIDS.

Is HIV/AIDS Contagious?Yes. HIV spreads through certain bodily fluids: infected blood, semen, genital fluids or breast milk. HIV is often transmitted through unprotected sex or by sharing drug needles. The virus cannot spread through saliva, tears, sweat, by hugging or by shaking hands.

Medical term: HIV stands for human immunodeficiency virus. AIDS stands for acquired immunodeficiency syndrome.

Signs & Symptoms: A few months after infection a person may experience fever, headache, swollen glands and other flu-like symptoms. Symptoms may disappear for years after the first stage of the infection. Fatigue, weight loss, night sweats, sores in the mouth or genitals and pneumonia are symptoms of HIV in later stages.

Treatment & Remedies: Thanks to antiretroviral drugs, or ARVs, people can now live  in good health with HIV for decades. ARVs suppress the amount of the HIV virus in the body. But ARVs are not a cure and can’t stop an HIV-positive person from infecting others.

More Facts:

  • ARVs have to be taken continuously to work.
  • The World Health Organization estimates there were 34 million people living with HIV worldwide, and 1 million AIDS-related deaths.
  • People are extremely contagious during the initial phase of an HIV infection.
  • Mosquitoes do not transmit HIV.

Sources and More Information:

HIV & AIDS: Details from MyHealthNewsDaily

Related Information from the Mayo Clinic

Related Information from the National Institutes of Allergy and Infectious Diseases

Related Information from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention


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