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HIV is the human immunodeficiency virus. It is the virus that can lead to acquired immune deficiency syndrome, or AIDS. HIV is preventable. HIV transmission occurs between people in three main ways:
- Sexual transmission
- Transmission through blood
- Mother-to-child transmission
HIV prevention methods include HIV testing and counseling, condom use, circumcision, family planning and sex education. HIV prevention programs aim to implement and scale-up these HIV prevention methods at the community, local and national level.
There are several reliable HIV testing methods most commonly used. ELISA (enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay) or, alternatively, EIA (enzyme immunoassay) are tests to detect HIV antibodies, which the body starts producing within three months after becoming infected with HIV. The Western blot is the most common test used to confirm positive results from an ELISA or rapid HIV test.
There are tests that look for HIV’s genetic material or proteins directly; these may also be used to find out if someone has been infected with HIV. Using technology similar to an ELISA, a rapid test produces results in about 20 minutes. There are different types of rapid tests, most common, one uses blood via a finger stick and the other uses oral fluids.
The majority of people infected by HIV develop a flu-like illness within months after the virus enters the body. This illness, known as primary or acute HIV infection, may last for a few weeks. Symptoms can include fever, muscle soreness, a rash, headaches, sore throat, swollen lymph glands, and even joint pain.
AIDS is the late stage of HIV infection, when a person’s immune system is severely damaged and has difficulty fighting diseases and certain cancers. Before the development of certain medications, people with HIV could progress to AIDS in just a few years.
Anyone of any age, race, sex or sexual orientation can become infected with the virus. Common risk factors are:
- Unprotected sex. Having anal, vaginal, or oral sex without using a new latex or polyurethane condom every time is a risk for acquiring HIV and other sexually transmitted infections. The risk increases if you have multiple sexual partners.
- Untreated sexually transmitted infections (STI). If you or a partner has an STI there could be open sores present on your genitals, creating a port of entry. These sores act as doorways for HIV to enter your body.
- Needle sharing. Using intravenous drugs or sharing needles for any reason (e.g. insulin, tattooing, body piercings, etc.) pose risks. People who use intravenous drugs often share needles and syringes. This exposes them to other people’s blood.
HIV is preventable. There is no cure.
Consistent, correct condom use can help greatly reduce the risk of HIV infection. HIV can be prevented by abstaining from sexual activity and needle-sharing for any reason. You can also reduce your risk by being in a long-term mutually monogamous relationship with an uninfected partner, where neither of you share needles. The fewer partners you have, the less likely you are to encounter someone who is infected with HIV or another STI.
There’s no cure for HIV/AIDS, but a variety of drugs can be used in combination to control the virus. Each of the classes of anti-HIV drugs blocks the virus in different ways. See a physician for details on treatment options.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Telephone Info. Line 1-800-CDC-INFO (232-4636) and for TTY: 1-888-232-6348