HIV and AIDS
HIV is a virus that attacks white blood cells called helper T cells (CD4). These cells are part of the immune system. They fight off infections and disease. As a result, an HIV infection can leave you vulnerable to severe illnesses.
AIDS is a late stage of HIV infection. It reflects severe damage to the immune system. One or more opportunistic infections will also likely exist. This is a type of infection that only occurs in people with compromised immune systems.
The HIV virus is spread through contact with HIV-infected blood or other body fluids. This includes semen, vaginal fluid, and breast milk.
AIDS is caused by the destruction of T cells. The destruction is caused by the HIV virus.
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HIV is spread through:
- Sexual contact with an HIV-infected person, especially intercourse or anal sex
- Transfer of HIV from a mother to child during pregnancy, childbirth, or breastfeeding
- A prick from an HIV-contaminated needle
- A blood transfusion with HIV-infected blood (rare today, due to testing of all donated blood for HIV infection beginning in 1985)
Rarely, HIV can be spread through:
- Blood from an HIV-infected person getting into an open wound of another person
- Being bitten by someone infected with HIV
- Sharing personal hygiene items with an HIV-infected person (razors, toothbrushes, etc.)
Last reviewed[Under Medical Review]by Lawrence Frisch, MD, MPH
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.