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AIDS 101

criss-cross pattern with hands

What Is HIV?

This is what HIV stands for:

H is for Human. (Men, women and children.)

I is for Immunodeficiency. (HIV weakens your immune system by destroying the cells that fight infection and disease. A weak immune system won’t be able to protect you.)

V is for Virus. (A virus reproduces itself by taking over cells in the body.)

Human Immunodeficiency Virus is much like other viruses, including those that cause the common cold or flu. Your immune system can get rid of most viruses from your body. With HIV – the immune system can’t seem to get rid of the virus.

HIV can hide for long periods of time in the cells of your body. It attacks your T-cells or CD4 cells and you need these cells to fight infections and disease. If HIV invades them, it will use them to reproduce, and then will destroy those cells.

Over time, HIV can destroy so many of your T-cells that your body can’t fight infection and disease. If this happens, the HIV infection can lead to AIDS.

What Is AIDS?

This is what AIDS stands for:

A is for Acquired. (AIDS is not something you inherit from your parents.)

I is for Immuno. (The body’s immune system which includes all the organs and cells that work together to fight infection or disease.)

D is for Deficiency. (If your immune system is “deficient,” it isn’t working properly.)

S is for Syndrome. (A syndrome is a collection of signs and symptoms of disease. AIDS is a syndrome, not a single disease, because it is complex and has a wide range of complications and symptoms.)

Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome is the final stage of HIV infection. People at this stage of HIV disease have badly damaged immune systems, which puts them at risk for opportunistic infections (OIs).

You will be diagnosed with AIDS if you have one or more specific OIs, certain cancers, or a very low number of CD4 cells. If you have AIDS, you will need medical intervention and treatment to prevent death.

Where Did HIV Come From?

Scientists believe HIV came from a particular kind of chimpanzee in Western Africa. Humans probably came in contact with HIV when they hunted and ate infected animals. Recent studies indicate that HIV may have jumped from monkeys to humans as far back as the late 1800s.

How Do You Get HIV?

HIV is found in specific human body fluids. If any of those fluids enter your body, you can become infected with HIV.

Which Body Fluids Contain HIV?

HIV lives and reproduces in blood and other body fluids. The following fluids can contain high levels of HIV:

* Blood
* Semen
* Pre-seminal fluid
* Breast milk
* Vaginal fluids
* Rectal (anal) mucus

Other body fluids and waste products, like feces, nasal fluid, saliva, sweat, tears, urine, or vomit, don’t contain enough HIV to infect you unless they have blood mixed in them and you have significant and direct contact with them.

Healthcare workers may be exposed to some other body fluids with high concentrations of HIV, including:

* Amniotic fluid
* Cerebrospinal fluid
* Synovial fluid

How Is HIV Transmitted Through Body Fluids?

HIV is transmitted through body fluids:

* During sexual contact: When you have anal, oral, or vaginal sex with a partner, you will usually have contact with your partner’s body fluids. If your partner has HIV, those body fluids can deliver the virus into your bloodstream through microscopic breaks or rips in the linings of your vagina, vulva, penis, rectum, or mouth. Rips in these areas are very common and usually unnoticeable. HIV can also enter through open sores, like those caused by herpes or syphilis. It is much easier to get HIV (or to give it to someone else), if you have a sexually transmitted disease (STD).

* During pregnancy, childbirth, or breastfeeding: Babies have constant contact with their mother’s body fluids-including amniotic fluid and blood-throughout pregnancy and childbirth. After