Skip to main content

HIV (Human Immunodeficiency Virus Disease)

Human Immunodeficiency Virus Disease

What is HIV? — HIV is the name of a virus that can affect the body's "immune system," which is responsible for fighting infections. When people have untreated HIV infection, they can become sick easily. That's because their immune system cannot work as well to fight off infections or cancer. Even so, people with HIV can take medicines to control the virus, keep their immune system strong, and stay healthy for many years.
People can get infected with HIV if blood or body fluid (such as semen or vaginal fluids) from a person with HIV enters their body. For example, a person can get HIV if he or she:
Has sex without using a condom with someone who has HIV – This includes vaginal, anal, and oral sex.
Shares needles or syringes with someone who has HIV
What is AIDS? — AIDS is the term doctors use to describe the stage of HIV infection when the immune system is at its weakest.
What are the symptoms of HIV? — When people first get infected with HIV, they can have a fever, sore throat, headache, muscle pain, and joint pain. These symptoms usually last about 2 weeks. In many cases, these symptoms are very mild. Most people with HIV infection do not even remember having them.
In the first few years after infection, most people with HIV infection have no symptoms or only mild symptoms. Some people have swelling of small bean-shaped organs under the skin called lymph nodes, usually in the neck, armpit, or groin. This symptom can also happen in people who have HIV for a long time.
People who have had untreated HIV for many years might have other problems, such as:
Fever, stomach pain, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and weight loss
Other infections, including:
•Lung infections
•Brain infections
•Eye infections that cause trouble seeing
•Yeast infections in the mouth that can cause soreness and raised, white patches
Is there a test for HIV? — Yes. You can have HIV testing done in your doctor's office or clinic using a sample of blood or sometimes saliva (spit). Results from some tests take a few days to come back. But results from rapid HIV tests can be ready within minutes.
Most pharmacies also sell test kits that you can use at home. For one type, you use a special strip to collect a tiny bit of your blood, and mail the strip to a lab for testing. Another type of kit comes with a test strip that you wipe along your gums. If you take a home test that says you are HIV positive, see your doctor and ask for a follow-up test to make sure.
How is HIV treated? — Doctors can prescribe different combinations of medicines to treat HIV. These are called "antiretroviral medicines." They work very well to keep HIV infection controlled in most people. You and your doctor should work together to decide when you should start treatment and which medicines are right for you.
It is important to follow all of your doctor's instructions about treatment and take your HIV medicines every day. This is because your HIV can get worse if you skip or stop taking your medicines. Let your doctor know if you have any side effects or problems with your medicines.
Some people with HIV also take other types of medicines every day to prevent HIV-related infections. For example, most doctors recommend that people with a low "T-cell count" take an antibiotic every day to keep from getting a lung infection called PCP. (T cells are a special type of white blood cell.)
What if I am pregnant or want to get pregnant? — If you have untreated HIV, your baby can become infected with HIV during pregnancy, birth, or through breastfeeding. If you are pregnant or want to get pregnant, talk with your doctor about ways to reduce the chance of passing HIV on to your baby.
What can I do to prevent spreading HIV to other people? — To reduce the chance of spreading HIV to other people:
Get tested for HIV and start treatment as early as possible
Tell anyone you plan to have sex with that you have HIV
Use a condom every time you have vaginal, anal, or oral sex
Do not share razors or toothbrushes with others
Do not share drug needles or syringes with others
All topics are updated as new evidence becomes available and our peer review process is complete.
This topic retrieved from UpToDate on: Mar 30, 2020.
Topic 15448 Version 21.0
Release: 28.2.2 - C28.105
© 2020 UpToDate, Inc. and/or its affiliates. All rights reserved.

7 popular HIV (Human Immunodeficiency Virus Disease) drugs