immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS) is a life-threatening disease caused by the
human immunodeficiency virus (HIV). An estimated 1.1 million Americans are
infected with HIV, according to the Centers
for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Approximately one-quarter of those
infected are unaware of their status.
damages the immune system and destroys CD4 positive T cells. The purpose of these
cells is to help coordinate your body’s ability to fight infections. As HIV
progresses, your body's ability to fight infections decreases and you become
more susceptible to a wide variety of infections and other diseases. Doctors typically
diagnose AIDS when an infected person develops one or more particular infections
like pneumonia or tuberculosis, or when your T cell count drops to less than
200 cells per cubic millimeter of blood, according to the National
Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.
of HIV/AIDS vary depending on the stage of infection. This is mainly defined by
the degree to which your CD4 cell count has dropped. Within two weeks of
developing an HIV infection, you may experience flu-like symptoms that can last
up to two months. These include:
aches and joint pain
symptoms of an HIV infection may also include night sweats, diarrhea, and skin
rash. However, some people don’t show symptoms during the early stage.
a sexually transmitted disease. The virus can pass from person to person
through contact with infected blood, semen, or vaginal fluids. Having
unprotected sex with an infected partner increases your risk of infection.
risk factors for HIV/AIDS include having a blood transfusion and sharing
needles or syringes with an infected person. Infected mothers may pass the
virus to their children during pregnancy or through breast-feeding. Although it
remains a controversial topic, some studies suggest that uncircumcised men have
a higher risk for HIV, according to the Mayo
HIV Diagnosis and Tests
you’re sexually active or if you think you've been exposed to the virus, talk
to your doctor about testing. You can infect others with the virus even if you
don't have symptoms of HIV.
order to determine if you have HIV, your doctor may test your blood and look
for antibodies specific to HIV. However, that initial round of testing may not
detect the virus. It can sometimes take up to one to three months for an HIV
antibody test to become positive. If you test negative, doctors may recommend
follow-up testing in a couple of months. They may also conduct a test that’s
able to identify an HIV protein in newly infected people.
you're diagnosed with HIV infection, you’ll need to see an infectious disease
specialist who has experience treating HIV patients. Your doctor will complete
additional tests to determine how severe your infection is. These tests include
CD4 Cell Count
test determines how many CD4 cells are present in a sample of your blood.
is a test that tells your doctor the amount of virus in your blood.
strains of the virus are resistant to certain medications used for the
treatment of HIV. This test helps your doctor determine the best combination of
drugs to treat your infection. Simply
because you’ve never been treated for HIV before doesn’t mean that the virus
you’ve been infected with hasn’t been exposed to antiretroviral drugs before.
The virus may have been exposed to antiretroviral drugs in the person who
transmitted the virus to you. The initial drug resistance test can allow your doctor
to create a treatment plan that will work for you.
can develop into AIDS in about 10 years if left untreated, according to the Mayo
There’s no cure for HIV/AIDS, but treatment can slow the progression of the
disease and improve your quality of life.
you’re diagnosed with the virus doctors prescribe antiretroviral therapy (ART).
These medications can stop HIV from multiplying in the body and reduce the risk
of transmitting the virus to others. There are five classes of anti-HIV drugs.
Your doctor will likely prescribe multiple drugs to help control the virus.
Drugs used to treat HIV/AIDS include:
reverse transcriptase inhibitors (NNRTIs)
reverse transcriptase inhibitors (NRTIs)
or fusion inhibitors
is a chronic condition that requires lifelong treatment. You’ll need periodic
blood testing to check your viral load and CD4 count. This helps your doctor
determine whether treatment is working. In addition to addressing side effects
or complications, this will guide their decisions about future treatments.
HIV damages your immune system, you may have more infections that a person who
doesn't have the virus. The risk for infection increases as the disease
progresses and your CD4 count drops. People with HIV also have an increased
risk for certain cancers like lymphoma. Possible complications of HIV/AIDS
confusion and other neurological complications
can also directly affect your organs and cause problems with your kidneys,
liver, heart, and brain.
and AIDS are preventable. In order to protect yourself, avoid contact with
infected bodily fluids like blood, semen, breast milk, and vaginal secretion.
Don't have unprotected sex and don't reuse condoms. Also, never share a needle
with anyone. Wear gloves if you're helping someone with an injury or cut to
avoid contact with blood.
important that you get tested for the virus and you should encourage your
partner to get tested. If you’re pregnant and test positive for HIV/AIDS, talk
with your doctor about effective medical interventions that can significantly reduce
your baby’s risk of HIV infection.