HIV/AIDS

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Overview

The human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) is the virus that causes HIV infection. HIV causes acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS), the most advanced stage of HIV infection.

HIV is spread through contact with the blood, semen, pre-seminal fluid, rectal fluids, vaginal fluids, or breast milk of a person with HIV. In the United States, HIV is spread mainly by having anal or vaginal sex or sharing injection drug equipment, such as syringes or needles, with a person who has HIV.

Antiretroviral therapy (ART) is the use of HIV medicines to treat HIV infection. People on ART take a combination of HIV medicines (called an HIV treatment regimen) every day.

ART is recommended for everyone who has HIV. ART cannot cure HIV infection, but HIV medicines help people with HIV live longer, healthier lives. HIV medicines can also reduce the risk of HIV transmission.

Symptoms

Fever.

Headache.

Muscle aches and joint pain.

Rash.

Sore throat and painful mouth sores.

Swollen lymph glands, mainly on the neck.

Diarrhea.

Weight loss.

Causes

HIV can transmit when body fluids containing the virus come into contact with a permeable barrier in the body or small breaks in moist tissues of areas, such as the genitals.


Specifically, HIV can transmit via:


blood

semen

pre-seminal fluid

vaginal fluids

rectal fluids

breast milk

The virus cannot transmit through saliva, so a person cannot contract HIV through open-mouthed kissing, for example.


One of the main causes of HIV transmission in the U.S. is anal or vaginal intercourse. Transmission of HIV occurs when individuals do not use barrier protection, such as a condom, during intercourse or are not taking pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP), a treatment that aims to prevent HIV transmission among people with known risk factors.


Sharing equipment for injecting drugs is another main cause of HIV transmission in the U.S.


Less commonly, HIV transmits to babies during pregnancy, childbirth, or breastfeeding or chestfeeding.

Risk factors

having unprotected anal or vaginal sex;

having another sexually transmitted infection (STI) such as syphilis, herpes, chlamydia, gonorrhoea and bacterial vaginosis;

sharing contaminated needles, syringes and other injecting equipment and drug solutions when injecting drugs;

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Complications

Your health care provider might also order lab tests to check for other infections or complications, including:


Tuberculosis

Hepatitis B or hepatitis C virus infection

STIs

Liver or kidney damage

Urinary tract infection

Cervical and anal cancer

Cytomegalovirus

Toxoplasmosis

Prevention

A condom is the most effective form of protection against HIV and other STIs. It can be used for vaginal and anal sex, and for oral sex performed on men. HIV can be passed on before ejaculation through pre-cum and vaginal secretions, and from the anus.