In 1981 the U.S. identified its first patient in what would become the AIDS epidemic. Today, people with access to testing, early intervention, and effective treatments can expect to live long, healthy lives.
What is HIV?
HIV is a virus that attacks cells in the immune system, which is our body’s natural defence against illness. The virus destroys a type of white blood cell in the immune system called a T-helper cell, and makes copies of itself inside these cells. T-helper cells are also referred to as CD4 cells.
As HIV destroys more CD4 cells and makes more copies of itself, it gradually weakens a person’s immune system. This means that someone who has HIV, and isn’t taking antiretroviral treatment, will find it harder and harder to fight off infections and diseases.
If HIV is left untreated, it may take up to 10 or 15 years for the immune system to be so severely damaged that it can no longer defend itself at all. However, the rate at which HIV progresses varies depending on age, general health and background.
Basic facts about HIV
- HIV stands for human immunodeficiency virus.
- People with HIV can enjoy a long and healthy life by taking antiretroviral treatment which is effective and available to all.
- Once a person has HIV, the earlier they are diagnosed, the sooner they can start treatment which means they will enjoy better health in the long term.
- Regular testing for HIV is important to know your status.
- HIV is found in semen, blood, vaginal and anal fluids, and breastmilk.
- HIV can’t be transmitted through sweat, saliva or urine.
- Using external (or male) condoms or internal (or female) condoms during sex is the best way to prevent HIV and other sexually transmitted infections.
- If you inject drugs, always use a clean needle and syringe, and never share equipment.
- If you’re pregnant and living with HIV, the virus in your blood could pass into your baby’s body, during birth or afterwards through breastfeeding. Taking HIV treatment and becoming undetectable eliminates this risk.
What is AIDS?
AIDS is a set of symptoms (or syndrome as opposed to a virus) caused by HIV. A person is said to have AIDS when their immune system is too weak to fight off infection, and they develop certain defining symptoms and illnesses. This is the last stage of HIV, when the infection is very advanced, and if left untreated will lead to death.
Basic facts about AIDS
- AIDS stands for acquired immune deficiency syndrome; it’s also called advanced HIV infection or late-stage HIV.
- AIDS is a set of symptoms and illnesses that develop as a result of advanced HIV infection which has destroyed the immune system.
- Fewer people develop AIDS now because treatment for HIV means that more people are staying well.
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