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Human Immunodeficiency Virus and Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome

Medically reviewed by Last updated on Feb 21, 2024.

What are HIV and AIDS?

HIV stands for human immunodeficiency virus. A virus is a germ that may cause illness. Once you are infected with HIV, you will probably be infected for life. AIDS stands for acquired immune deficiency syndrome. To get AIDS, you must be infected with HIV and have a weakened immune system. Scientists are making progress with treatments for HIV, so infected people are living longer and healthier lives.

What causes HIV and AIDS?

Your immune system protects your body from infection. HIV weakens part of your immune system by damaging the T-helper cells (also called CD4+ cells). T-cells are a type of white blood cell that help your body fight certain kinds of infections. When you have AIDS, the number of T-cells is low and cannot help fight these infections. HIV also can cause certain types of cancers. These infections and cancers are what make people with HIV or AIDS sick. In some people, the infections and cancers may be life-threatening.

What are the signs and symptoms of HIV infection or AIDS?

You may have HIV in your body and a low T-cell count for some time and not know it. A healthy adult's T-cell count should be more than 500. If you have a positive HIV test and a T-cell count of less than 200, caregivers will diagnose AIDS. They will also diagnose AIDS if you have an infection that only affects people with weakened immunity. You may also have one or more of the following symptoms:

How is HIV treated?

There is no known cure for HIV or AIDS. Treatment of HIV focuses on decreasing the amount of the virus in your body and preventing infections.

Treatment options

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

View more treatment options

How is HIV spread from person to person?

The following are ways that HIV may be spread:

What is not true about how HIV is spread?

There are many false beliefs about how HIV may be spread from person to person. The following are the ways HIV is not spread:

What medical problems am I at risk for if I have AIDS?

AIDS makes it hard for your body to fight off germs. You can get infected with germs that do not bother most people, often in the lungs or brain. You may also get some rare kinds of pneumonia or cancer. People with AIDS can get all of the same infections that a person without AIDS can get. These infections become more severe and spread faster in people with HIV or AIDS.

What are the risks of HIV and AIDS?

Medicines or other treatments for HIV and AIDS may cause serious side effects, such as liver disease. Medicines may make you feel very tired or sick to your stomach. You may throw up. Other side effects may include burning, tingling, and numbness in your hands, legs, and feet. If you are taking several different medicines, they may not work well together. This may make you very sick. If you are HIV-positive, your treatments may not stop you from getting AIDS. Not all AIDS-related infections and cancers can be stopped, even with treatment. If your infections or cancers are not treated, they may spread, and you could die.

How do I care for myself when I have HIV or AIDS?

How can I prevent the spread of HIV or AIDS to others?

Where can I find 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:

When should I contact my caregiver?

Contact your caregiver if:

When should I seek immediate care?

Seek care immediately or call 911 if:

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 caregivers 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.

Learn more about Human Immunodeficiency Virus and Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome

Treatment options

Care guides

Symptoms and treatments guides (external)

Further information

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