HIV is an acronym for the Human Immunodeficiency Virus that can lead to Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome, or AIDS. Though there are 2 types of the HIV virus (HIV-1 and HIV-2), HIV in the US primarily refers to HIV-1. HIV works by destroying the body’s CD4+ T cells, a specific blood cell that is vital to helping the body fight off disease. HIV is only transferred through blood and body fluid of infected individuals, not through casual contact (like hugging). People who are infected with HIV may have flu-like symptoms in the first few weeks of infection, but others have no symptoms at all. Though people infected with HIV may appear healthy, they are still in danger from the unseen damage being done to their immune system by the virus. All patients should see a specialist and begin treatment with medications that limit or slow down the destruction of the immune system by the HIV virus. This treatment may also improve the health of HIV patients and may reduce their ability to transmit HIV to others. The treatment that is most effective for HIV is known as HAART, or highly-active anti-retroviral therapy. Because of HAART, patients can live many years before they develop AIDS. Once patients develop AIDS, their immune system is severely damaged. These patients develop infections more often and are at risk for certain types of cancer and other complications.
Some people are in groups that are at higher risk for contracting HIV due to lifestyles or behavior. Examples are:
- Those who have unprotected sex (do not use condoms). Unprotected oral sex also poses a risk of HIV transmission, but the risk is lower than that for anal or vaginal sex.
- Those who have multiple sexual partners.
- Those who have other STDs (sexually transmitted diseases) when they have sex.
- Those who are IV drug users/abusers, especially those who share needles or syringes, rinse water, or other drug paraphernalia with others.
- Those who are born to mothers with HIV, since HIV can pass from mother to child during birth, pregnancy, or while breast-feeding.
Prevention and education are very important in reducing new cases of HIV transmission or in providing care for those affected with HIV.
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