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Human Immunodeficiency Virus And Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome


  • HIV stands for human immunodeficiency virus. Once you are infected with this virus, you will probably be infected for life. HIV weakens your immune system by damaging your T-helper cells. T-cells help your body fight certain illnesses. AIDS stands for acquired immune deficiency syndrome. With AIDS, your number of T-cells is low, and they cannot help fight infections. To get AIDS, you must be infected with HIV and have a weakened immune system.


Medicines to treat HIV and AIDS:

  • Antiretroviral medicine: This medicine may be given to slow down the HIV infection. It may help you stay in long-term remission (keep the HIV infection from becoming AIDS). The antiretroviral medicines used to fight HIV are sometimes called HAART, which stands for highly active antiretroviral treatment. There are different types of medicine that may be used. Ask for more information about these and other medicines that you may need:
    • Nucleoside reverse transcriptase inhibitors (NRTI):
      • Abacavir
      • Azidothymidine
      • Didanosine
      • Emtricitabine
      • Lamivudine
      • Stavudine
      • Tenofovir
      • Zalcitabine
      • Zidovudine
    • Nonnucleoside reverse transcriptase inhibitors (NNRTI):
      • Delavirdine
      • Efavirenz
      • Etravirine
      • Nevirapine
    • Protease inhibitors (PI):
      • Amprenavir
      • Atazanavir
      • Darunavir
      • Indinavir
      • Nelfinavir
      • Ritonavir
      • Saquinavir
      • Tipranavir

Other medicines:

You may need the following to treat infections or side effects from HIV and AIDS medicines:

  • Antibiotics: This medicine will help fight or prevent an infection. Take your antibiotics until they are gone, even if you feel better.
  • Antidepressants: This medicine is usually given to decrease or stop the symptoms of depression. It can also be used to treat other behavior problems.
  • Antifungal medicine: This medicine helps kill fungus that can cause illness.
  • Antinausea medicine: This medicine may be given to calm your stomach and prevent vomiting.
  • Pain medicine: You may be given medicine to take away or decrease pain. Do not wait until the pain is severe before you take your medicine.
  • Take your medicine as directed: Call your primary healthcare provider if you think your medicine is not helping or if you have side effects. Tell him if you are allergic to any medicine. Keep a list of the medicines, vitamins, and herbs you take. Include the amounts, and when and why you take them. Bring the list or the pill bottles to follow-up visits.

Follow up with your primary healthcare provider or infectious disease specialist as directed:

Write down your questions so you remember to ask them during your visits. People with weakened immune systems get infections more easily than others. Let your primary healthcare provider know right away if you have been exposed to a person with an infectious disease. This is an illness that can spread from person to person. Keep all appointments, even if they are only to get test results.

Prevent the spread of HIV and AIDS:

  • Tell all caregivers, such as your doctor and dentist, that you are HIV-positive.
  • Tell your sex or needle-sharing partners that you are HIV-positive.
  • Use a latex condom correctly each time you have vaginal, anal, or oral sex. Latex condoms do not stop you from spreading HIV but may decrease the risk. Ask your caregiver for more information about how to use condoms the right way.
  • Do not donate (give) sperm, organs, or body tissue.
  • Do not get your body fluids in the mouth, eyes, anus, or open skin cuts of others.
  • Do not share sex toys.
  • Do not have oral sex without using a condom or latex barrier. Do not lick your partner's anal area. Other diseases also may be spread by doing these things.
  • Do not donate blood or blood products.
  • Do not share needles or other equipment if you use injectable drugs.
  • Do not share razors, toothbrushes, tweezers, or other objects. They may cut the skin and cause others to come into contact with blood.
  • Do not pierce your ears, navel, or any other place on your body. Piercing can cause bleeding, which may spread HIV.

Information for women with HIV and AIDS:

  • HIV may be spread from a mother to her unborn child while she is pregnant. It also may be passed in breast milk. An HIV-positive pregnant woman may need to take special medicines while pregnant and breastfeeding. A newborn baby may have to take these medicines.
  • Get a Pap smear every 4 to 6 months. This is a test to check for cancer of the cervix. The cervix is the bottom part of your uterus (womb).

Practice good health habits:

  • Brush your teeth twice a day with a soft-bristled brush. Floss your teeth once a day. See your dentist every 6 months for a checkup.
  • Wash your hands often. Use soap and rub them for at least 20 seconds. Rinse them with warm water. Dry your hands well with a clean towel, paper towel, or warm air blower.
  • Bathe or shower every day.
  • Stay away from people who have colds or the flu. Stay away from large groups of people. This will decrease your chance of getting sick. The medicines and treatments that you receive to treat HIV and AIDS may decrease your ability to fight off illness.
  • Stop smoking, drinking, and using street drugs of any kind. If you practice these habits, it will not be easy to change your lifestyle. You will need help. Talk to your primary healthcare provider about going to a substance abuse treatment center.

Monitor what you eat and drink:

  • Do not drink untreated water or swallow water while you are swimming.
  • Eat enough food to keep your weight from decreasing. Germs may be on certain foods. These foods may cause a stomach or bowel infection. Avoid eating raw or undercooked eggs, poultry, meat, seafood, and cold cuts. Do not eat soft cheeses or unpasteurized dairy products or juices.
  • Prepare foods safely. Do not let cooked food touch uncooked food or cutting boards or dishes used for uncooked food. Wash all fruits and vegetables well before eating them.
  • Keep your refrigerator and shower clean to decrease the risk of mold.

Manage your stress:

Stress may slow healing and lead to illness. Learn ways to control stress, such as relaxation, deep breathing, and music. Talk to someone about things that upset you.

For support and more information:

You and those close to you may feel angry, sad, or frightened. These feelings are normal. Talk to your caregivers, family, or friends about your feelings. You may want to join a support group. This is a group of people who also are HIV-positive or have AIDS. You can also contact the following:

  • AIDS Health Project
    1930 Market St.
    San Francisco , CA 94102
    Phone: 1- 415 - 476-3902
    Web Address:
  • Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
    1600 Clifton Road
    Atlanta , GA 30333
    Phone: 1- 800 - 232-4636
    Web Address:

Contact your caregiver if:

  • You have a fever.
  • You have chills or night sweats.
  • You have sore or large lymph nodes in your neck, jaw, armpit, or groin.
  • You feel tired, and it does not go away.
  • You have diarrhea that does not get better.
  • You have lost more than 10 pounds in a short period of time.
  • Your skin is bleeding or bruising.
  • You have white spots or sores in your mouth, throat, vagina, or rectum.
  • You have a cough, shortness of breath, or chest tightness.
  • You notice changes in your menstrual cycle or flow.
  • Your skin is itchy, swollen, or has a rash. Your medicine may be causing these symptoms. This may mean you are allergic to your medicine.
  • You have other body changes that worry you.
  • You have questions or concerns about your illness, medicine, or treatment.

Seek care immediately or call 911 if:

  • You cannot think clearly.
  • You have a severe headache.
  • You have a stiff neck.
  • You have problems seeing.
  • You have problems with balance, walking, or speech.
  • You have weakness in an arm or leg.
  • You are too short of breath to move.
  • You have chest pain.
  • You are so weak that you cannot stand up.
  • You are unable to drink liquids.
  • You are so depressed you feel you cannot cope any longer.

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.

Further information

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

Learn more about Human Immunodeficiency Virus And Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (Discharge Care)

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