What is HIV?


What is HIV? Is it the same as AIDS?

HIV (Human Immunodeficiency Virus) is a virus that weakens the immune system, making it harder to fight off infections. While HIV causes AIDS (Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome), people who test positive for HIV do not necessarily have AIDS. Scary as this may sound, it's possible to have HIV for years and not develop or show any signs of the disease. The only way to know is to get tested. And, with medication, people can be HIV + and maintain a good quality of life for a long time. According to the CDC, about 1.1 million people in the U.S. are living with HIV. 250,000 people are estimated to be living with undiagnosed HIV, meaning that they do not know they have the virus.

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Who is at risk for HIV?

Everyone can get HIV. Most people get the virus by having sex with an infected person, sharing needles with an infected person, or from childbirth. HIV is not transmitted by saliva or by toilet seats. You can't get it from sharing towels or shaking hands. But it's not a gay disease or something that only spreads to young people. In fact, the highest number of newly acquired cases of HIV have been found in middle aged adults, ages 35 to 44.

Is there a cure or treatment for HIV?

Currently there is no vaccine to prevent HIV or a treatment that cures HIV. That said, HIV can be managed, treated, and people can live long, full lives. Used in combination with one another, powerful antiretroviral medications can slow down the virus. When working closely with a doctor and following the treatment plan carefully, people can live with HIV longer than ever before.

What if I don't get it treated?

Left undiagnosed and untreated, HIV can do a lot of damage to the immune system. The end result is AIDS. People with AIDS can be vulnerable to so-called "opportunistic" infections, including cancers, viral infections, bacterial infections, parasites, and fungal infections throughout the body. How long will the disease process take is unknown. The time it takes for HIV to transition into AIDS is different for everyone. When the immune system is so worn down, it can't fight off common health problems. Also, detecting and treating HIV in pregnant women dramatically reduces the risks of transmission to an unborn baby. Early detection is the key to living with HIV and preventing it from spreading to others. There are new drugs that have slowed the progression time between HIV infection and the development of AIDS.

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