What is HIV/AIDS?
HIV stands for Human Immunodeficiency Virus, a virus that kills off your body's CD4 (or T-helper) cells – the very cells that help your body fight off infection and disease. In the more than two decades since this disease was first reported, AIDS has become a global epidemic. In the US, an estimated 1.2 million people are living with HIV. The disease is fatal.

How does one get HIV/AIDS?
Sexual contact and sharing needles with someone who is HIV-positive are the most common ways that the virus is transmitted. Body fluids known to carry the HIV virus are blood and fluids containing blood, semen, vaginal fluid, and breast milk. Other body fluids that could transmit the virus to others include the fluid surrounding the brain and spinal cord, fluid surrounding the bone joints, and the amniotic fluid surrounding an unborn baby.

What can be the consequences of HIV/AIDS?

  • When first infected with HIV, you may have no symptoms at all, although it's more common to develop a brief flu-like illness two to six weeks after becoming infected. With or without symptoms, the virus may be transmitted to sexual partners.
  • Once the virus enters your body, your immune system comes under attack. The virus multiplies in your lymph nodes and slowly begins to destroy your helper T cells (CD4 lymphocytes) — the white blood cells that coordinate your entire immune system.
  • You may remain symptom-free for 8 or 9 years or more. But the virus continues to multiply and destroy immune cells. Tests are likely to show a sharp decline in the number of these cells in your blood.
  • Chronic symptoms usually include swollen lymph nodes, diarrhea, weight loss, fever, cough, and shortness of breath.
  • During the last phase of HIV (approximately 10 or more years after the initial infection) more serious symptoms may begin to appear, and the infection may then meet the official definition of AIDS. By the time AIDS develops, your immune system has been severely damaged, making you susceptible to many devastating opportunistic infections as well as some cancers.

What treatment, if any, is available for HIV/AIDS?
There is no cure for AIDS. Drugs have been developed to help, but none of them can cure HIV/AIDS. Many of the new drugs have side effects that can be quite severe, and most are expensive. Antiretroviral therapy, is the standard of care for most people living with AIDS.

For more information about HIV/AIDS visit: CDC   Mayo Clinic

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