HIV/AIDS: The Basics
Part of HIV and Its Treatment
What is HIV/AIDS?
The human immunodeficiency virus, or HIV, is the virus that causes HIV infection. During HIV infection, the virus attacks and destroys the infection-fighting CD4 cells of the body's immune system. Loss of CD4 cells makes it difficult for the immune system to fight infections.
Acquired immunodeficiency syndrome, or AIDS, is the most advanced stage of HIV infection.
How is HIV transmitted?
HIV is transmitted (spread) through the blood, semen, genital fluids, or breast milk of a person infected with HIV. Having unprotected sex or sharing drug injection equipment (such as needles and syringes) with a person infected with HIV are the most common ways HIV is transmitted.
You can't get HIV by shaking hands, hugging, or closedmouth kissing with a person who is infected with HIV. And you can't get HIV from contact with objects such as toilet seats, doorknobs, dishes, or drinking glasses used by a person infected with HIV.
Even though it takes many years for symptoms of HIV to develop, a person infected with HIV can spread the virus at any stage of HIV infection. Detecting HIV early after infection and starting treatment with anti-HIV medications before symptoms of HIV develop can help people with HIV live longer, healthier lives. Treatment can also reduce the risk of transmission of HIV.
What is the treatment for HIV?
Antiretroviral therapy (ART) is the recommended treatment for HIV infection. ART involves taking a combination (regimen) of three or more anti-HIV medications daily. ART prevents HIV from multiplying and destroying infection-fighting CD4 cells. This helps the body fight off life-threatening infections and cancer.
ART can't cure HIV, but anti-HIV medications help people infected with HIV live longer, healthier lives.
Can treatment prevent HIV from advancing to AIDS?
Yes. Treatment with anti-HIV medications prevents HIV from multiplying and destroying the immune system. This helps the body fight off life-threatening infections and cancers and prevents HIV from advancing to AIDS. It takes many years, but without treatment, HIV infection can advance to AIDS. A diagnosis of AIDS requires that a person infected with HIV have either:
What illnesses are considered AIDS-defining conditions?
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) considers several illnesses AIDS-defining conditions. Pneumocystis jiroveci pneumonia, tuberculosis, and toxoplasmosis are examples of AIDS-defining conditions.
For More Information
Contact an AIDSinfo health information specialist at 1-800-448-0440 or visit http://aidsinfo.nih.gov. See your health care provider for medical advice.
This information is based on the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services' Guidelines for the Use of Antiretroviral Agents in HIV-1-Infected Adults and Adolescents.
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This article was provided by AIDSinfo. Visit the AIDSinfo website to find out more about their activities and publications.
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