HIV (human immunodeficiency virus) is a virus that gradually weakens the body's immune system.
As the HIV virus damages the immune system it weakens people's defense against many infections and some types of cancer. HIV attacks and destroys the CD4 lymphocytes that are in charge of fighting off external infections.
HIV and AIDS (Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome) is not the same. AIDS is the most advanced stage of HIV. A person with AIDS develops a severe immunodeficiency and a lack of defense against opportunistic infections.
Before developing AIDS, there may be an asymptomatic stage for many years where there may be no symptoms.
HIV is transmitted via the exchange of body fluids from an infected person, such as the blood, semen, vaginal fluids, or breast milk of a person with HIV. It can also be transmitted from a mother to her child during pregnancy and delivery.
People with HIV can transmit the infection. For this reason, they should not donate blood, plasma, organs or semen. In addition, they must avoid fluid contact during sexual intercourse.
The main risk factors to get infected by HIV include:
The risk of infection may be reduced with the following approach:
Within 2 to 4 weeks after the initial infection with HIV, some people may have flu-like symptoms.
They are often vague or unspecific and may include fever, sore throat, muscle aches, rash or fatigue.
The symptoms may last for a few days to several weeks.
The only way to know for sure whether you have HIV is through a diagnostic test. The most widely used tests detect HIV antibodies.
People usually develop antibodies to HIV from 3 to 12 weeks after the infection.
A person seropositive for HIV is the one that have tested positive in an HIV test and must follow an appropriate treatment.
People with a diagnosis of infection for HIV should follow antiretroviral therapy (ART) to inhibit HIV replication. ART is recommended for everyone who has HIV. The therapy may be composed of a combination of three or more antiretroviral (ARV) drugs.
There is no cure for HIV infection but ART therapy may reduce HIV to such small quantities that may be undetectable in the blood.
You should talk to your health care provider if you suspect a possible infection or you are an infected patient who develops HIV related symptoms.