World AIDS Day is observed on December 1 every year. It is an opportunity to raise awareness of HIV and AIDS, and to improve education on the HIV epidemic worldwide. HIV and AIDS affect the lives of millions of people around the world, yet they are still the subject of a great deal of misinformation and prejudice. The most important step in ending the stigma surrounding HIV and AIDS is to learn more. Read the following common questions and answers, and help spread greater awareness throughout your community.
What are HIV and AIDS?
- HIV (human immunodeficiency virus) is a virus that attacks the immune system by destroying the body’s white blood cells. When the immune system is weakened, the body cannot fight off diseases as easily.
- Both the virus and the infection it causes are called HIV.
- The three stages of HIV infection are: acute HIV infection, chronic HIV infection and AIDS (acquired immunodeficiency syndrome).
- If HIV is left untreated, it can develop into AIDS. It is a disease of the immune system that is the result of HIV infection.
- In the U.S., most people with HIV do not develop AIDS, as HIV treatment stops the infection from progressing.
How is HIV transmitted?
- The only way to get HIV is through direct contact with certain bodily fluids from a person who has HIV. These fluids are blood, semen and pre-seminal fluid, rectal fluids, vaginal fluids and breast milk.
- Most of the time, HIV is transmitted via unprotected sex with a person who has HIV or through shared drug needles.
- Women can pass HIV to their babies during pregnancy, childbirth or breastfeeding.
- You cannot get HIV by shaking hands or touching a person who has HIV. You also cannot get it from contact with objects such as toilet seats or doorknobs.
- For more detailed information, visit CDC's page on HIV transmission.
What are the symptoms of HIV and AIDS?
- Within two to four weeks after infection with HIV, most people develop flu-like symptoms, such as fever, chills, night sweats, muscle aches, rash, etc. They can last from a few days to several weeks.
- Some people do not experience any symptoms during the initial stage of HIV.
- During the second stage of HIV, people might also not experience any symptoms. However, they can still transmit HIV to others. It is important to get treatment during this stage.
- The only way to really know if you have HIV or AIDS is to get tested.
- If you have HIV and have not received any treatment, your immune system will weaken significantly over time and you will progress to the final stage of HIV, which is the development of AIDS.
- During this stage, people can experience more severe symptoms, such as rapid weight loss, recurring fever and night sweats, extreme fatigue, swelling of the lymph glands, pneumonia, etc.
- These symptoms may be related to other illnesses developed as a result of a weakened immune system, which are called opportunistic infections.
Is there a cure for HIV?
- While there is no cure for HIV, there are treatments that allow people who have HIV to manage their illness and live long lives.
How is HIV treated?
- Antiretroviral therapy (ART) is the use of medicines to treat HIV infection.
- ART reduces a person’s viral load, which is the amount of HIV found in the blood, to an undetectable level. People who have an undetectable viral load have effectively no risk of transmitting HIV to another person.
How do you prevent HIV?
- Abstinence is the only 100% effective option for HIV prevention.
- Using condoms can reduce the risk of HIV transmission.
- People with HIV should use ART to reduce the likelihood of transmitting HIV to others.
- If you are at a high risk for HIV or are in a sexual relationship with someone who has HIV, talk to your doctor about pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP). PrEP is a daily medicine that prevents HIV infection.
- If you think you might have been exposed to HIV, talk to your doctor about post-exposure prophylaxis (PEP). PEP is a daily medicine taken after potential exposure to HIV that prevents infection.