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HIV Infection

Medically reviewed by Last updated on Jun 5, 2024.

What is HIV?

HIV (human immunodeficiency virus) is a viral infection that slowly weakens your immune system. The virus kills a type of white blood cell called CD4. A normal CD4 count ranges from 500 to 2,000. You have HIV when your CD4 count ranges from 200 to 500. You have AIDS (acquired immune deficiency syndrome) when your CD4 count is less than 200. AIDS is the final stage of HIV infection. AIDS means your immune system cannot fight off infections and disease. This can become life-threatening. Seek care immediately if you think you may have been exposed to HIV. Drug treatments are available after exposure to HIV.

What are the first signs and symptoms of an HIV infection?

You may have no signs or symptoms at first. Many people have flu-like symptoms in the first few weeks after infection. You may have any of the following symptoms for about 2 weeks:

What are the later signs and symptoms of an HIV infection?

You may feel well for months or years. As your CD4 count drops and your immune system weakens, you may develop signs such as oral thrush. An infection from a past virus, such as herpes or chickenpox, may come back. As your immune system continues to weaken, you can get more serious infections. You may develop the following:

How is an HIV infection diagnosed?

Your healthcare provider will examine you and ask about your signs and symptoms. He or she will ask questions to find out how you became infected and who else may be at risk. Tell him or her about your illnesses or infections, including sexually transmitted infections (STIs). Tell him or her if you received any vaccines or were tested for HIV or tuberculosis. Tell him or her how many sex partners you have had, if they were male or female, and if you used condoms. Tell him or her if you inject illegal drugs and share needles. You may need any of the following tests:

How is an HIV infection treated?

HIV cannot be cured. The main goal of treatment is to improve your health. The second goal is to slow the progression from HIV to AIDS. Your healthcare provider will decide your treatment based on your CD4 cell and viral load counts. Tell him or her if you ever had an allergic reaction to or other problem with any medicine. You may need any of the following:

Treatment options

The following list of medications are related to or used in the treatment of this condition.

View more treatment options

How can I improve my quality of life?

Early treatment and good management can help you live for years with an HIV infection. You will need to learn about HIV and manage your health to improve your quality of life. Do the following to help keep your immune system strong:

How can I prevent the spread of HIV through body fluid?

What else can I do to prevent the spread of HIV?

What do women with HIV need to know?

What can I do to prevent the spread of germs?

Call your local emergency number (911 in the US) if:

When should I seek immediate care?

When should I call my doctor?

Care Agreement

You have the right to help plan your care. Learn about your health condition and how it may be treated. Discuss treatment options with your healthcare providers to decide what care you want to receive. You always have the right to refuse treatment. The above information is an educational aid only. It is not intended as medical advice for individual conditions or treatments. Talk to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist before following any medical regimen to see if it is safe and effective for you.

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Further information

Always consult your healthcare provider to ensure the information displayed on this page applies to your personal circumstances.