What is HIV?

HIV (human immunodeficiency virus) is a virus that attacks cells that help the body fight infections, making people more susceptible to other infections and illnesses. It most often occurs through contact with certain bodily fluids of an HIV-infected person, sharing injection equipment, or unprotected sex (sex without a condom or without anti-HIV medication to prevent or treat HIV). It spreads by making

Untreated, HIV can lead to AIDS (acquired immunodeficiency syndrome).

The human body cannot get rid of HIV and there is no effective treatment for HIV. Therefore, if you become infected with HIV, you will be infected for life.

However, by taking drugs for HIV (called antiretroviral therapy or ART), people with HIV can live long, healthy lives and prevent their sexual partners from becoming infected with HIV. In addition, there are effective ways to prevent HIV infection based on gender and drug use, such as pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) and post-exposure prophylaxis (PEP).

HIV, first identified in 1981, is one of the deadliest and most enduring causes of the human epidemic.

What is AIDS?

AIDS is a later stage of HIV infection that occurs when the body’s immune system is severely damaged by the virus.

In the United States, most people living with HIV do not develop AIDS because taking HIV medications daily, as prescribed, stops the progression of the disease.

A person infected with HIV is considered to have progressed to the AIDS stage if:

The CD4 cell count is less than 200 cells per cubic millimeter of blood (200 cells/mm3). (In people with a healthy immune system, the CD4 count ranges from 500 to 1600 cells/mm3.)
One or more opportunistic infections occur regardless of the CD4 count.
Without HIV drugs, people with AIDS typically live for about three years. When a person develops a dangerous opportunistic infection, life expectancy without treatment drops to about a year. Anti-HIV drugs can help people even at this stage of HIV infection and save lives. However, people who start ART immediately after being infected with HIV experience more benefit. Therefore, HIV testing is very important.

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