What You Need to Know About HIV and AIDS
If you are going to be caring for someone with HIV infection, you need to understand the basic facts about HIV and AIDS. AIDS (acquired immunodeficiency syndrome) is caused by HIV (human immunodeficiency virus). People who are infected with HIV can look and feel healthy and may not know for years that they are infected. However, they can infect other people no matter how healthy they seem. HIV slowly wipes out parts of the body's immune system; then the HIV-infected person gets sick because the body can't fight off diseases. Some of these diseases can kill them.
Signs of HIV infection are like those of many other common illnesses, such as swollen glands, tiring easily, losing weight, fever, or diarrhea. Different people have different symptoms.
There is no vaccine to prevent HIV infection and no cure for AIDS. There are treatments that can keep infected people healthy longer and prevent diseases that people with AIDS often get. Research is ongoing.
HIV slowly makes an infected person sicker and sicker. Diseases and infections will cause serious illness, but people often get better -- until the next illness. Sometimes, HIV can damage the brain and cause changes in feelings and moods, even make it hard to think clearly. Someone with AIDS can feel fine in the morning and be very sick in the afternoon. It can seem like riding a roller coaster, slowly climbing up to feeling good, then plunging down into another illness.
Health care workers, such as nurses, risk getting infected if they are stuck with a needle containing infected blood or splashed with infected blood in the eyes, nose, mouth, or on open cuts or sores. In a few cases, a person sharing a house with a person with HIV infection or taking care of a person with AIDS has become infected themselves. These infections may have been caused by sharing a razor, getting blood from the infected person into open cuts or sores, or some other way of having contact with blood from the infected person. If you are taking care of a person with HIV infection, carefully follow the steps on protecting yourself from infection discussed later.
This article was provided by AIDSinfo. It is a part of the publication Caring for Someone With AIDS at Home. Visit the AIDSinfo website to find out more about their activities and publications.