What is it?
HIV or human immunodeficiency virus is a virus that attacks the immune system, making the body unable to fight off infections and disease; AIDS or acquired immune deficiency syndrome is the most advanced stage of HIV infection.
What are the symptoms?
HIV is often asymptomatic in its early stages. In fact, 1 in 5 people with HIV don’t know they’re infected because it can take up to 10 years for symptoms to appear. When the first symptoms do appear, they commonly include swollen glands, fever, headaches, fatigue, and muscle aches that may only last for a few weeks. The symptoms of AIDS – such as recurring vaginal yeast infections, rapid weight loss, night sweats, persistent dry coughing and diarrhea – appear as the body’s disease-fighting white blood cells diminish due to HIV.
How is it spread?
HIV/AIDS is spread through the exchange of blood, semen, vaginal fluids, and breast milk during activities such as vaginal or anal intercourse, sharing needles for injection drug use, and breastfeeding. There is no risk of infection from closed-mouth kissing, sharing drinking glasses, or other casual contact.
How is it diagnosed?
A blood test is used to identify the presence of antibodies. In most cases it takes 12 weeks for the antibodies to show up in blood work after the initial infection, though sometimes, it takes up to six months.
How is it treated?
There is no cure for HIV/AIDS. Thanks to advances in medical technology, it’s possible to take combinations of medications, called highly active antitretroviral therapy (HAART), to keep the virus under control.
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