HIV (human immunodeficiency virus) is a virus that attacks the immune system. The immune system becomes weaker, making it harder for the body to fight off infections and some kinds of cancers.
Most people who are diagnosed early and take medicines for HIV can live long, healthy lives.
AIDS (acquired immune deficiency syndrome) happens after someone has had HIV for many years. In AIDS, the immune system is severely weakened. Serious infections and health problems happen.
Medicines can help prevent HIV from developing into AIDS.
HIV spreads when infected blood or body fluids (such as semen or vaginal fluids) enter the body. This can happen:
HIV also can pass from mother to child during pregnancy, childbirth, or breastfeeding.
HIV is NOT spread through:
When first infected with HIV, a person may have:
These symptoms go away in a few weeks. In the first few years after infection, someone with HIV may have mild symptoms, like swollen glands.
Because the symptoms of HIV can be mild at first, some people might not know they're infected. They can spread HIV to others without even knowing it.
After a few years, other symptoms start, including:
Without treatment, HIV can lead to a very weakened immune system and progress to AIDS. Illnesses that happen in AIDS are called "AIDS-defining conditions."
AIDS-defining conditions include:
HIV destroys CD4 cells (also called T cells). CD4 cells are part of the immune system. They fight germs and help prevent some kinds of cancers.
Health care providers usually diagnose HIV through blood tests. Someone who has HIV is said to be "HIV positive."
Tests also are available without a prescription at the drugstore. You can do the test at home.
HIV is diagnosed as AIDS when someone:
Medicines can help people with HIV stay healthy. They can also prevent HIV from progressing to AIDS.
Health care providers prescribe a combination of different medicines for people with HIV and AIDS. They must be taken exactly as prescribed or they won't work. These medicines:
Regular blood tests will check the number of CD4 cells in the body (called the CD4 cell count) and the viral load.
If an HIV-positive person's CD4 count gets low, doctors prescribe daily antibiotics. This prevents pneumocystis pneumonia, which happens in people with weakened immune systems.
To reduce the risk of getting HIV, people who are sexually active should:
Treatment has improved greatly for people with HIV. By taking medicines and getting regular medical care, HIV-positive people can live long and healthy lives.
Your child's medical care team is there for you and your child. They will help your child get the best treatment, and also can offer support to you and other caregivers.
You can help if your child has HIV or AIDS. Make sure your child:
Find more information at:
Note: All information is for educational purposes only. For specific medical advice,
diagnoses, and treatment, consult your doctor.
Images sourced by The Nemours Foundation and Getty Images.
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