by Rick Alan
HIV is a virus that attacks white blood cells called helper T cells (CD4). These cells are part of the immune system. They fight off infections and disease. As a result, an HIV infection can leave you vulnerable to severe illnesses.
AIDS is a late stage of HIV infection. It reflects severe damage to the immune system. One or more opportunistic infections will also likely exist. This is a type of infection that only occurs in people with compromised immune systems.
The HIV virus is spread through contact with HIV-infected blood or other body fluids. This includes semen, vaginal fluid, and breast milk.
AIDS is caused by the destruction of T cells. The destruction is caused by the HIV virus.
HIV is spread through:
Rarely, HIV can be spread through:
Factors that increase your chance of getting HIV include:
The risk factor for AIDS is having HIV.
HIV may not cause symptoms for a number of years.
Early symptoms may appear a month or two after becoming infected. They may last a couple of weeks. These include:
After these initial symptoms pass, there may be no symptoms for months to years. Then, the following symptoms may occur over the course of 1-3 years:
It can be 10 years or more before HIV progresses to AIDS. This happens when T helper cell levels fall below certain levels and opportunistic infections arise. Examples of opportunistic infections and other complications of AIDS include:
The doctor will ask about your symptoms, medical history, and risk factors. A physical exam will be done. Your doctor may order tests, such as:
Medicines can prevent, delay, or control the development of AIDS in many people infected with HIV.
These drugs are often given in combination. They include:
Nucleoside reverse transcriptase inhibitors:
Nucleotide reverse transcriptase inhibitors:
To prevent becoming infected with HIV:
Recent studies found that circumcised men were significantly less likely to develop HIV infection compared to uncircumcised men.
To prevent spreading HIV to others if you are HIV infected:
American Foundation for AIDS Research
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
AIDS Committee of Toronto
Canadian AIDS Society
Adult male circumcision significantly reduces risk of acquiring HIV [press release]. National Institutes of Health website. Available at: http://www3.niaid.nih.gov/news/newsreleases/2006/AMC12_06.htm. Accessed June 13, 2008.
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3/8/2007 DynaMed's Systematic Literature Surveillance
https://dynamed.ebscohost.com/about/about-us: Auvert B, Taljaard D, Lagard E, Sobngwi-Tambekou J, Sitta R, Puren A. Randomized, controlled intervention trial of male circumcision for reduction of HIV infection risk: the ANRS 1265 Trial.
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Gray RH, Kigozi G, Serwadda D, et al. Male circumcision for HIV prevention in men in Rakai, Uganda: a randomised trial. Lancet. 2007 Feb 24;369(9562):657-666.
2/21/2008 DynaMed's Systematic Literature Surveillance https://dynamed.ebscohost.com/about/about-us: Mallal S, Phillips E, Carosi G, et al. HLA-B5701 screening for hypersensitivity to abacavir. N Engl J Med. 2008;358:568-579.
6/11/2010 DynaMed's Systematic Literature Surveillance https://dynamed.ebscohost.com/about/about-us: Del Romero J, Castilla J, Hernando V, Rodríguez C, García S. Combined antiretroviral treatment and heterosexual transmission of HIV-1: cross sectional and prospective cohort study. BMJ. 2010:c2205.
Last reviewed [Under Medical Review] by Lawrence Frisch, MD, MPH
Last Updated: 9/20/2011