Human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) is an infection that may cause a chronic, life-threatening condition called AIDS. HIV is an infection that will prevent your body from fighting off organisms that cause other infections and diseases, weakening your immune system considerably. HIV is a sexually transmitted infection (STI) that can be spread through sexual acts, pregnancy, childbirth, breastfeeding, or blood contact. There is no cure for HIV or AIDS though there are now medications to help control the symptoms.

Symptoms of HIV/AIDS

The signs and symptoms of HIV and AIDS will vary depending on the type and phase of infection. With a primary infection, symptoms include a fever, muscle soreness, rash, headache, sore throat, ulcers in the mouth or genitals, swollen lymph glands, joint pain, night sweats, and diarrhea. These symptoms can be so mild they are barely noticed or extreme to cause someone to get checked out by a doctor. There is also chronic latent infection that lasts 10 years and doesn’t have any symptoms. Early symptomatic HIV infection includes fatigue, fever, swollen lymph nodes, diarrhea, weight loss, cough, and shortness of breath. If it progresses to full blown AIDS, symptoms include shaking chills, fever above 100 degrees Fahrenheit for several weeks, soaking night sweats, chronic diarrhea, unexplained fatigue, headaches, white spots or lesions in your mouth and on your tongue, weight loss, blurred vision, and bumps or rashes on the skin.

Causes of HIV

HIV is transmitted through semen or vaginal secretions or infected blood, both of which must enter your body to get the HIV infection. Kissing, hugging, shaking hands, or dancing cannot give you the infection. The common ways people get HIV is during sexual intercourse or oral sex, blood transfusions, sharing needles with someone who has HIV or AIDS, or from mother to child during pregnancy, childbirth or breastfeeding.

Diagnosing and Treating HIV/AIDS

Blood or saliva tests for antibodies of HIV is the most common way to tell if you have HIV or AIDS. However these tests aren’t 100% accurate because the infection takes a while before the antibodies are built up in your system enough to show a positive result. The infection takes about 12 weeks before the antibodies are present, or as long as 6 months for a positive HIV test. There is a newer test for diagnosing HIV that checks for the protein produced by the virus shortly after infection. There is no cure for HIV or AIDS, but the symptoms can be treated for many years. You will typically start treatment if you have severe symptoms, have a CD4 count under 500, are pregnant, are being treated for hepatitis B, or have an HIV-related kidney disease.

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