Facts About HIV and Aids
- AIDS stands for “acquired immunodeficiency syndrome.” A syndrome is a cluster of medical conditions. AIDS is caused by the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), which weakens the body’s immune system.
- HIV spreads through unprotected sex (intercourse without a condom), transfusions of unscreened blood, contaminated needles (most frequently by injecting drugs) and from an infected woman to her child during pregnancy, childbirth or breastfeeding.
- Most infected individuals look healthy and feel fine for many years after infection. They may not even suspect that they harbor the virus, although they can transmit it to others. A laboratory test is the only sure way to determine whether an individual is HIV positive.
- Once infected with HIV, individuals are infected for life and will probably succumb to serious opportunistic infections resulting from the weakening of their immune systems. Treatment with antiretroviral drugs can slow the progression of HIV infection, but these expensive medications are not available to most people in the developing world. In individuals who do not receive antiretroviral therapy, the time between infection with HIV and the development of the serious illnesses that define AIDS is around 8 to 10 years, and most patients do not survive much longer than two years after the onset of AIDS.