What is HIV?

HIV is a virus that attacks the immune system. It attacks the immune system’s ability to fight infection and disease.

It can cause a variety of illnesses, including:

  • A chronic infection
  • AIDS
  • Serious illnesses such as pneumonia and tuberculosis
  • Serious complications from these illnesses

HIV can also spread to other people through sharing needles or other equipment.

HIV is a lifelong condition. It cannot be prevented through vaccination, and certain medicines can’t prevent it.

How is HIV diagnosed?

HIV is diagnosed in two ways.

Routine screening

Screening tests can detect HIV antibodies or antigens. Screening tests are done when you go to a doctor for a regular check-up.

There are different types of screening tests for HIV.

Antibody tests

Antibody tests look for antibodies in your blood that are specific to HIV.

Antibody tests can also detect HIV antibodies in semen, vaginal fluid, and breast milk.

Antigen tests

Antigen tests can detect HIV antigens in your blood.

These tests can also detect HIV antigens in vaginal fluid or breast milk.

If you’re at high risk of HIV, your doctor may recommend a combination of antibody and antigen tests.

How is HIV treated?

Treatment for HIV depends on many factors. These include:

  • The type of HIV infection
  • The stage of HIV
  • Your overall health

If you have AIDS, you’ll need to take antiretroviral therapy (ART). This is a combination of several medicines to help slow the progression of HIV.

ART can help prevent HIV from progressing to AIDS and can make you less likely to develop other conditions.

ART usually includes:

  • A combination of two or more medicines (drugs)
  • One medicine alone

The type of ART you’re prescribed will depend on your age, your overall health, and other factors.

Routine screening tests are also recommended for all people under the age of 25 years.

The three main types of ART are:

  • Combination therapy
  • Triple therapy
  • Single-drug therapy

ART can also be combined with other medicines.

ART can help reduce your risk of HIV transmitting to others.

ART can also help reduce the number of illnesses you have, such as pneumonia, tuberculosis, and other infections.

ART isn’t a cure for HIV. You might need to take it for the rest of your life.

What are the side effects of HIV treatment?

The side effects of HIV treatment can vary depending on the type of treatment you’re taking.

Routine screening tests for HIV are generally safe, but they can cause some side effects.

Some people experience side effects of HIV treatment, particularly when they start taking the first medicine.

Common side effects of ART may include:

  • Nausea
  • Diarrhea
  • Headache
  • Muscle aches
  • Hair loss
  • Fatigue
  • Fever
  • Joint pain
  • Rash

These side effects usually go away as you continue treatment. Serious side effects are uncommon.

How can I prevent HIV?

There’s currently no vaccine to prevent HIV. However, researchers are working on developing one.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommend that all adults between 15 and 64 years of age get tested for HIV at least once.

If you’re at risk for HIV, you can get tested at your doctor’s office or a public health department.

You can also get tested at a local health department or community health center.

You can get HIV treatment regardless of whether you’re at increased risk.

How can I protect myself?

You can take steps to protect yourself from HIV.

You can:

  • Avoid sharing needles or other equipment that you might use to inject drugs.
  • Don’t share personal items, such as razors or toothbrushes.
  • Avoid sharing food or drinks.
  • Don’t share toothbrushes, razors, or nail clippers.
  • Wash your hands before and after using the bathroom.
  • Avoid sharing sex toys.
  • Don’t share items such as razors or toothbrushes that might have been used recently.
  • Avoid sharing sex toys or other personal items.
  • Use a condom during sex.
  • Use a condom during oral sex.
  • Tell your partner everything about your sexual history and what you’re using or have used.
  • Let partners know that you have HIV.
  • Tell partners about your HIV status.
  • Get tested regularly.
  • Take your HIV medications.

When should I seek emergency care?

You should seek emergency care if you have any of these symptoms:

  • A rash that’s red, pink, or purple in color
  • Sores that don’t heal
  • Swelling of your face or tongue
  • Severe pain
  • Severe dizziness or lightheadedness
  • Uncontrolled shaking
  • Swelling in your arms, legs, or abdomen
  • Shortness of breath
  • Chest pain
  • Severe swelling of your feet or ankles

What is the outlook for people with HIV?

If you’re diagnosed with HIV, your outlook depends on the type of HIV infection you have.

The CDC estimates that about 1.2 Million people have HIV in the United States.

Without treatment, HIV can lead to AIDS. This can cause a range of serious illnesses.

According to the CDC, there’s an 85 percent mortality rate in people with HIV who aren’t receiving treatment.

The outlook is better for people who are receiving ART. They have a 96 percent survival rate.

What can I do to prevent HIV?

The best way to prevent HIV is to practice safe sex. You can do this by:

  • Using a condom every time you have sex.
  • Using a condom or dental dam with every sexual encounter.
  • Using a dental dam during anal sex.

The takeaway

HIV is a lifelong condition. It’s not a curable disease.

It can cause a variety of illnesses, and it can spread to other people through sharing needles or other equipment.

Routine screening tests can detect HIV antibodies or antigens.

These tests can also detect HIV antigens in your vaginal fluid, breast milk, and semen.

If you’re at increased risk for HIV, you can get tested at your doctor’s office or a public health department.

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