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Facts About...


What is it?

AIDS (Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome) is a disease of the immune system. It is caused by the Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) which slowly destroys the body’s ability to fight illnesses. When people are first infected with the virus, they usually feel well and often do not know they are infected. People are infected for life and can spread HIV to others. It can take up to 10 or more years before the person develops AIDS.

HIV/AIDS is a reportable infection and must be reported to your local Health Department.

How is it spread?

HIV is found in blood, semen, vaginal secretions and breast milk of an infected person. There is no evidence that the virus is spread through saliva and tears even though it is found in these fluids. The only way to become infected with HIV is to get the virus into your blood. HIV is spread by unprotected sexual contact with an infected partner. The virus can enter the bloodstream through open lesions on the vagina, vulva, penis, rectum, or mouth. HIV is also spread by sharing contaminated needles and syringes and through the use of non-sterile instruments that enter the body (e.g., tattooing or skin piercing equipment). A woman infected with HIV/AIDS can pass the virus on to her baby during pregnancy, during birth, and through breastfeeding. You cannot get HIV from coughing or sneezing, sharing the same drinking fountain, swimming pool, toilet seat, by shaking hands, hugging, or eating food that has been prepared by someone infected with the virus. You won’t get HIV from a mosquito or any other insect bite.

What do I look for?

Some people develop a flu-like illness within a month after becoming infected with the virus. Symptoms may include fever, headache, tiredness, sore throat, oral or genital ulcers, vomiting and diarrhea, and enlarged lymph nodes. These symptoms usually disappear within a week to a month and are often similar to those of other viral infections. Persistent and severe symptoms may not occur for years. They can include weight loss, skin lesions or sores, vision loss, recurrent pneumonia, cancer and damage to the nervous system. For women, recurrent yeast infections and abnormalities on pap tests can occur. These symptoms signal the onset of AIDS. With early diagnosis and treatment, those individuals with HIV infection can stay healthy for many years.

How is it treated?

HIV/AIDS is treated with medications to prevent the virus from multiplying (making copies of itself), which reduces the amount of HIV in your body. Having less HIV in your body gives your immune system a chance to recover and fight off infections and cancers. To date there is no cure available.

How can I protect myself?

HIV blood tests are available at your doctor’s office, sexual health clinic or anonymous HIV-testing sites. Test results are confidential.

December 1, 2015