What is HIV?
H – Human – This particular virus can only infect humans.
I – Immunodeficiency - HIV weakens your immune system by destroying important cells that fight disease and infection. A “deficient” immune system can’t protect you.
V – Virus – A virus can only reproduce itself by taking over a cell in the body of its host.1
HIV is the virus that causes AIDS (acquired immunodeficiency syndrome). HIV is a lot like other viruses, including those that cause the “flu” or the common cold. But there is a difference – over time, your immune system can clear most viruses out of your body. That isn’t the case with HIV – the human immune system can’t seem to get rid of it. Scientists are still trying to figure out why.
How does HIV harm the Body?
HIV is best known for targeting the T cells of the immune system. The immune system is made up of specialized cells in the bloodstream that fight off invading germs to keep the body healthy. The "T" cells (also referred to as "T4," "helper-T," or "CD4" cells) are the brains of the operation. These white blood cells identify invaders and give orders to soldier-type cells, which then battle various bacteria, viruses, cancers, fungi, and parasites that can make a person sick.
Like all viruses, the HIV is only interested in one thing: reproducing itself. Once it has attacked and moved into a T cell, it converts that cell into a miniature virus factory. Eventually there are so many new viruses in the cell that the T cell explodes, scattering the HIV back into the bloodstream. The virus then moves on to fresh T cells and repeats the process. Over time, the HIV can destroy virtually all of an infected person's T cells in this manner.2
How does someone get infected with HIV?
HIV is found in specific human body fluids. If any of those fluids enter your body, you can become infected with HIV. Human body fluids that contain high levels of HIV:
- Semen (cum)
- Pre-seminal fluid (pre-cum)
- Breast milk
- Vaginal Fluids
- Rectal (anal) mucus
HIV is only found in body fluids and does not survive well outside the body. Therefore you cannot get HIV by shaking hands, hugging someone or by using the same toilet.
HIV Signs and Symptoms
When first infected with HIV, a person may have no signs or symptoms at all, although the virus can still be transmitted to others. Many people develop a brief flu-like illness two to four weeks after becoming infected. Signs and symptoms may include:
- Swollen lymph nodes in the neck, groin or under the arms
- Unexplained weight loss
- Fever, chills or sweats (especially at night)
- Visual changes
- Frequent pneumonias or shortness of breath
- Flu-like symptoms
What is AIDS?
A – Acquired – An infection acquired after birth
I – Immuno – Refers to your immune system
D – Deficiency – Your immune system is deficient and is not working the way it should
S – Syndrome - A syndrome is a collection of symptoms and signs of disease.
A person is diagnosed with AIDS when their immune system is too weak to fight off infections. It is the final stage of HIV infection.1
What are the symptoms of AIDS?
A person is diagnosed with AIDS when they have developed an AIDS related condition or symptom, called an opportunistic infection or an AIDS related cancer. It is possible for someone to be diagnosed with AIDS even if they have not developed an opportunistic infection. AIDS can be diagnosed when the number of immune system cells (CD4 cells) in the blood of an HIV positive person drops below a certain level. Most life-threatening opportunistic infections occur when a person’s CD4 count is below 220.
Why Should I Get Tested?
People living with HIV may appear and feel healthy for several years. However, even if they feel healthy, HIV is still affecting their bodies. All people with HIV should be seen on a regular basis by a health care provider experienced with treating HIV infection. Many people with HIV, including those who feel healthy, can benefit greatly from current medications used to treat HIV infection. These medications, known as antiretroviral therapy, can limit or slow down the destruction of the immune system, improve the health of people living with HIV, and may reduce their ability to transmit HIV. HAART provides support services to people with HIV. Our agency can help people cope with their diagnosis, reduce risk behavior, and find needed services.
HIV Testing at HAART
HAART provides free, rapid, oral testing which delivers an HIV test result in as little as 20 minutes. The test is performed by taking a swab of the inside of the test taker’s mouth. No needles, no blood required.
- Speak openly with partners about safer sex techniques and HIV status.
- If you don't know your status, get an HIV test to protect yourself and others.
- Get tested with your partner as a way of saying "you care and want both of you to stay healthy."
- Use a latex condom with each oral, anal or vaginal sexual encounter. Those with latex allergies should use latex-free condoms.
- Do not share needles or syringes if you inject drugs. If you do inject drugs, seek professional help to kick your habit.
- HIV infected pregnant women should get into regular prenatal care.
- HIV infected women should not breast feed.
2This article was provided by HIV Coalition (HIVCO)