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January 30, 2019 | Family Medicine
Human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) attacks your immune system, which reduces the body’s ability to fight disease. Acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS) is the last stage of HIV.
Although there is no cure for HIV, there are many treatment options that help someone infected with HIV lead a healthy, long life. Today, fewer people develop AIDS from HIV because of advances in medicine.
Signs and Symptoms
HIV is usually spread by vaginal fluids, semen or anal fluids, but it can also be transmitted through blood and breastmilk. It cannot be spread through sweat, saliva or urine. In the United States, HIV is most commonly transmitted through intercourse with an HIV-infected person who isn’t using a condom or sharing injectable equipment with a person who has HIV.
Once a person has been infected with the virus, he or she may develop a primary infection about four to six weeks later with symptoms similar to the flu:
This primary infection may last a few weeks. Many people may not even realize it’s HIV because their symptoms are mild. The next phase of HIV can cause persistent swelling in the lymph nodes but may not present any other symptoms. People may not experience severe symptoms for 10 years or more after infection.
As HIV gets worse, more infections, such as thrush, shingles or general colds and viruses can develop. Diarrhea, weight loss, fever, and fatigue are also common.
A doctor can test for HIV with a blood test, and like with many diseases, early diagnosis improves the chance of successful treatment. Many cities have free and confidential testing sites for HIV. However, it can take three to six months after exposure to the virus for it to show up in a blood test. Even if the first test is negative, you may want to get tested again in a few weeks.
Antiretroviral (ART) treatment does not cure HIV, but it does reduce the level of HIV in the body to the point where tests cannot detect HIV. If HIV is not detected in the blood, it cannot be passed to a sexual partner. When started early, ART is considered highly effective at managing HIV.
Additionally, doctors may recommend making lifestyle changes to manage HIV:
HIV is a chronic condition, but advances in modern medicine have made it possible for people with HIV to live an almost-normal life. If you’re concerned about your risk for HIV and AIDS, talk to your doctor for testing options and prevention methods.
“Explaining HIV and AIDS.” Adam Felman. https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/17131.php
“HIV/AIDS.” Mayo Clinic. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/hiv-aids/symptoms-causes/syc-20373524
Maria Oneida, MD
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This information is not intended to replace the advice of a medical professional. You should always consult your doctor before making decisions about your health.