The human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) is the virus that causes AIDS (acquired immunodeficiency syndrome). HIV is transmitted in blood, semen, vaginal fluids and breast milk. HIV attacks the body’s immune system and makes it harder for someone to fight off infections. AIDS is the most advanced stage of HIV infection, where the body has been the most affected by the virus and is less able to battle infections.
Development of AIDS
It takes the body up to 10 years or more to develop AIDS; with current treatments, this time frame is believed to be increasing. The onset of AIDS is the first time many people notice symptoms of the HIV infection. During this incubation period, HIV is destroying the body's T-cells (cells that fight off infection in the body). A person is still able to transmit HIV to others before an AIDS diagnosis.
Patients can be diagnosed with AIDS if they develop one or more of several infections, cancers, or if they have less than 200 T-cells. It is possible with treatment to recover from these infections and diseases and raise T-cell counts. However, once an AIDS diagnosis has been made, it is not reversed.
Since many people can go years without experiencing symptoms from HIV, it is important to get tested regularly if you could be at risk for infection. Testing can be done on blood, urine or by an oral swab. It is possible to be infected with HIV and have a test come back negative, depending on the test and how soon after infection you are tested. If you receive a negative test, you should be sure to get re-tested at least six months after exposure to ensure seroconversion (change in the body to having a response to the infection) has completed.
There are many treatments available for people with HIV/AIDS that can keep people healthier longer. It is important to be on treatment when you are diagnosed with HIV, even before being diagnosed with AIDS. Getting into treatment right away and taking care of your health are the best ways to fight the disease, stay healthy for as long as possible and delay the onset of AIDS.
Since HIV is transmitted in blood, breast milk, semen and vaginal fluids, the best way to prevent infection is to avoid coming into contact with these fluids. If you are an injection drug user, you should not share needles or works with anyone else, and you should disinfect your needles and works before and after each use. You should not engage in oral, anal or vaginal sex. If you are sexually active, you can reduce your risk by reducing your number of partners and using a latex or polyurethane condom or barrier with each sex act. Pregnant women should speak with their doctors about the best way to reduce the risk of transmission to their baby and should not breast-feed.