• HIV Infection and AIDS

    (Human Immunodeficiency Virus and Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome)


    Human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) is a virus that attacks the 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. Opportunistic infections are a type of infection that only occur in people with compromised immune systems.


    HIV is spread through contact with HIV-infected blood or other body fluids. This includes semen, vaginal fluid, and breast milk. The infection may be the result of HIV-1 or HIV-2 virus.
    AIDS is caused by the destruction of T cells. The destruction is caused by the HIV virus.
    Immune System
    Immune system white blood cell
    HIV destroys white blood cells vital to the immune system.
    Copyright © Nucleus Medical Media, Inc.
    HIV is most commonly spread through:
    • Sexual contact with an HIV-infected person, especially vaginal or anal sex
    • Transfer of HIV from a mother to child during pregnancy, childbirth, or breastfeeding
    • Using an HIV-contaminated needle
    Rarely, HIV can be spread through:
    • A blood transfusion with HIV-infected blood
    • Blood from an HIV-infected person getting into an open wound of another person
    • Being bitten by someone infected with HIV
    • Sharing personal hygiene items with an HIV-infected person

    Risk Factors

    Factors that may increase your chance of HIV infection include:
    • Sexual relationship with a high-risk individual or a partner already infected with HIV
    • Multiple sexual partners
    • Sex without using a condom including vaginal and anal sex
    • Having other sexually transmitted diseases
    • Injecting illegal drugs, especially with used or dirty needles
    • Regular exposure to HIV-contaminated blood or other body fluids
    • Being born to an HIV-infected mother
    • Living in or being from a geographic locations with high numbers of people with AIDS
    • Receiving donor blood products, tissue, organs, or artificial insemination before 1985 (infections from donated tissue after 1985 is unlikely due to strict screening processes)
    • Uncircumcised penis—circumcised men are less likely to develop HIV infection than uncircumcised men
    HIV infection increases the chances of getting AIDS.


    HIV may not cause symptoms for a number of years.
    Early symptoms may appear 1-2 months after becoming infected. They may last a couple of weeks and be similar to the flu or mononucleosis. These include:
    • Fever
    • Joint and muscle aches
    • Night sweats
    • Fatigue
    • Swollen lymph nodes in armpits, neck, or groin
    • Headache
    • Sore throat
    • Rash
    • Diarrhea
    After these initial symptoms pass, there may be no symptoms for months to years. The following symptoms may occur over the years:
    • Lack of appetite
    • Fatigue
    • Muscle wasting
    • Swollen lymph glands all over the body
    • Memory loss
    • Development of lots of warts
    • Fungal infections of the mouth, fingernails, toes
    • Repeated vaginal infections
    • Flare-ups of prior conditions, such as eczema , psoriasis , or herpes
    • Chronic diarrhea
    If left untreated, HIV infection progresses to AIDS. This may happen when the number of T helper cells fall below certain levels and opportunistic infections arise. People with AIDS are susceptible to many health complications. These may include:


    Your doctor will ask about your symptoms and medical history. A physical exam will be done. To confirm a diagnosis of HIV infection, your doctor will run tests. These may include:
    • HIV antibody test to detect specific proteins in the blood, urine, or saliva
    • Plasma RNA, or viral load test, to detect the amount of HIV in the blood
    • Your doctor may also test you for other infections, such as tuberculosis, hepatitis, or STDs


    Medications can prevent, delay, or control the development of AIDS in many people infected with HIV.

    Drugs That Fight HIV

    Antiviral drugs are often given in combination. Categories of these drugs include:
    • Nucleoside reverse transcriptase inhibitors
    • Nonucleoside reverse transcriptase inhibitors
    • Protease inhibitors
    • HIV-1 integrase inhibitors
    • HIV-1 fusion inhibitors
    • CC chemokine receptor 5 antagonists

    Drugs That Fight AIDS-Related Infections and Cancers

    People who have developed AIDS may be given other medications to help fight infections that are more likely to occur with a weak immune system. These may include antibiotics or antifungal medications.


    To help reduce your chance of HIV infection:
    • Abstain from sex or limit the number of sexual partners.
    • Use a latex condom every time you have sex.
    • Avoid sexual partners who are HIV-infected or injection drug users.
    • Do not share needles for drug injection.
    • Talk to your partner about any sexually transmitted infections you or your partner have.
    • Let your doctor know if you share needles or have sex with someone who has HIV. Your doctor may want to start medication to help prevent an HIV infection from developing.
    • Go to regular check-ups and get tested for HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) as advised.
    • Talk to your doctor about the value of pre- or post-exposure prophylaxis.
    If you are a healthcare worker or work in a correctional facility, take these steps:
    • Wear appropriate gloves and facial masks during all procedures.
    • Carefully handle and properly dispose of needles.
    • Carefully follow universal precautions.
    If you live in a household with an HIV-infected person:
    • Wear appropriate gloves if handling HIV-infected bodily fluids.
    • Cover all cuts and sores, yours and the HIV-infected person's, with bandages.
    • Do not share any personal hygiene items such as razors, toothbrushes, etc.
    • Carefully handle and properly dispose of needles used for medication.
    If you are infected with HIV, take these steps to prevent spreading HIV to others:
    • Abstain from sex.
    • If you do have sex, use a latex condom every time. This includes any sexual act that results in the exchange of bodily fluids. Options to consider:
      • A female condom may be used. Male condoms are better studied for HIV prevention, but a female condom is better than no protection.
      • Use a dental dam (small square of latex) or similar barrier during oral sex.
    • If you are prescribed medications, be sure that you are taking them. Work with your doctor to monitor your viral load. Medications and low viral loads may decrease the chance of passing the infection.
    • Inform former or potential sexual partners about the infection. Encourage them to get tested.
    • Do not donate blood or organs.
    • If you are not planning a pregnancy, ask your doctor about contraception.
    • If you do wish to become pregnant, talk to your doctor. There are ways to lower your baby's risk of being born infected with HIV.
    • If you have a baby, do not breastfeed.


    American Foundation for AIDS Research http://www.amfar.org

    Centers for Disease Control and Prevention http://www.cdc.gov


    AIDS Committee of Toronto http://www.actoronto.org

    Canadian AIDS Society http://www.cdnaids.ca


    2015 Sexually transmitted diseases treatment guidelines. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. Available at: http://www.cdc.gov/std/tg2015/default.htm. Updated March 9, 2016. Accessed May 31, 2016.

    Acute HIV infection. EBSCO DynaMed Plus website. Available at: http://www.dynamed.com/topics/dmp~AN~T902526/Acute-HIV-infection. Updated August 12, 2016. Accessed September 28, 2016.

    Bailey RC, Moses S, Parker CB, et al. Male circumcision for HIV prevention in young men in Kisumu, Kenya: A randomised controlled trial. Lancet. 2007;369(9562):643-656.

    Gray RH, Kigozi G, Serwadda D, et al. Male circumcision for HIV prevention in men in Rakai, Uganda: a randomised trial. Lancet. 2007;369(9562):657-666.

    Guidelines for the use of antiretroviral agents in HIV-1-infected adults and adolescents. AIDS Info website. Available at: https://aidsinfo.nih.gov/contentfiles/lvguidelines/adultandadolescentgl.pdf. Accessed May 31, 2016.

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    HIV infection. EBSCO DynaMed Plus website. Available at: http://www.dynamed.com/topics/dmp~AN~T114424/HIV-infection. Updated May 23, 2016. Accessed September 28, 2016.

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    Montaner JS. Treatment as prevention: A double hat-trick. Lancet. 2011;378(9787):208-209.

    National Center for HIV/AIDS, Viral Hepatitis, STD, and TB Prevention. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. Available at: http://www.cdc.gov/nchhstp/Default.htm. Updated May 24, 2016. Accessed May 31, 2016.

    Pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP). AIDS website. Available at: https://www.aids.gov/hiv-aids-basics/prevention/reduce-your-risk/pre-exposure-prophylaxis/index.html. Updated January 29, 2016. Accessed May 31, 2016.

    Preventing transmission of HIV. AIDS info website. Available at: https://aidsinfo.nih.gov/education-materials/fact-sheets/20/48/the-basics-of-hiv-prevention. Updated August 2012. Accessed May 31, 2016.

    Post-exposure prophylaxis (PEP). AIDS website. Available at: https://www.aids.gov/hiv-aids-basics/prevention/reduce-your-risk/post-exposure-prophylaxis. Updated September 21, 2015. Accessed May 31, 2016.

    Rey D, Krebs M, Partisani M, Hess G, et al. Virologic response of zidovudine, lamivudine, and tenofovir disoproxil fumarate combination in antiretroviral-naive HIV-1-infected patients. J Acquir Immune Defic Syndr. 2006;43(5): 530-534.

    Ross LL, Parkin N, Gerondelis P, et al. Differential impact of thymidine analogue mutations on emtricitabine and lamivudine susceptibility. J Acquir Immune Defic Syndr. 2006;43(5):567-570.

    Testing for HIV. AIDS info website. Available at: https://aidsinfo.nih.gov/education-materials/fact-sheets/19/47/hiv-testing. Updated September 24, 2015. Accessed May 31, 2016.

    3/8/2007 DynaMed Plus Systematic Literature Surveillance http://www.dynamed.com/topics/dmp~AN~T114424/HIV-infection: Auvert B, Taljaard D, Lagard E, et al. Randomized, controlled intervention trial of male circumcision for reduction of HIV infection risk: the ANRS 1265 Trial. PLoS Med. 2005;2(11):e298.

    2/21/2008 DynaMed Plus Systematic Literature Surveillance http://www.dynamed.com/topics/dmp~AN~T114424/HIV-infection: Mallal S, Phillips E, Carosi G, et al. HLA-B5701 screening for hypersensitivity to abacavir. N Engl J Med. 2008;358(6):568-579.

    6/11/2010 DynaMed Plus Systematic Literature Surveillance http://www.dynamed.com/topics/dmp~AN~T114424/HIV-infection: 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.

    10/8/2014 DynaMed Plus Systematic Literature Surveillance http://www.dynamed.com/topics/dmp~AN~T114424/HIV-infection: British Association of Sexual Health and HIV (BASHH) recommendations on testing for sexually transmitted infections in men who have sex with men. Available at: http://www.bashh.org/documents/BASHH%20Recommendations%20for%20testing%20for%20STIs%20in%20MSM%20-%20FINAL.pdf. Updated 2014. Accessed May 31, 2016.

    Revision Information

    • Reviewer: David Horn, MD
    • Review Date: 05/2016
    • Update Date: 05/31/2016
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