AIDS (patient information)

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What is AIDS?

AIDS - The Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome - is a disease you get when HIV destroys your body’s immune system. Normally, your immune system helps you fight off illness. When your immune system fails you can become very sick and can die. HIV - The Human Immunodeficiency Virus - is a virus that kills your body’s "CD4 cells." CD4 cells (also called T-helper cells) help your body fight off infection and disease.

What is the Difference Between AIDS and HIV?

AIDS is the disease which results from HIV's destruction of the T-helper cells. The HIV virus causes AIDS.


The symptoms of AIDS are primarily the result of infections that do not normally develop in individuals with healthy immune systems. These are called opportunistic infections.

People with AIDS have had their immune system weakened by HIV and are very susceptible to these opportunistic infections. Common symptoms are fevers, sweats (particularly at night), swollen glands, chills, weakness, and weight loss.

Note: Initial infection with HIV can produce no symptoms. Some people, however, do experience flu-like symptoms with fever, rash, sore throat, and swollen lymph nodes, usually 2 weeks after contracting the virus. Some people with HIV infection remain without symptoms for years between the time the are exposed to the virus and when they develop AIDS

How HIV/AIDS Is Spread

Anyone can get HIV. The most important thing to know is how you can get the virus.

You can get HIV:

-By having unprotected sex- sex without a condom- with someone who has HIV. The virus can be in an infected person’s blood, semen, or vaginal secretions and can enter your body through tiny cuts or sores in your skin, or in the lining of your vagina, penis, rectum, or mouth. -By sharing a needle and syringe to inject drugs or sharing drug equipment used to prepare drugs for injection with someone who has HIV. -From a blood transfusion or blood clotting factor that you got before 1985. (But today it is unlikely you could get infected that way because all blood in the United States has been tested for HIV since 1985.) -Babies born to women with HIV also can become infected during pregnancy, birth, or breast-feeding.

You cannot get HIV:

-By working with or being around someone who has HIV. -From sweat, spit, tears, clothes, drinking fountains, phones, toilet seats, or through everyday things like sharing a meal. -From insect bites or stings. -From donating blood. -From a closed-mouth kiss (but there is a very small chance of getting it from open-mouthed or "French" kissing with an infected person because of possible blood contact).

Treatment Options

There is no cure for HIV. It is a lifelong condition. Although HIV is a very serious infection, many people with HIV and AIDS are living longer, healthier lives today, thanks to new and effective treatments. It is very important to make sure you have a doctor who knows how to treat HIV. If you don’t know which doctor to use, talk with a health care professional or trained HIV counselor. If you are pregnant or are planning to become pregnant, this is especially important.

There also are other things you can do for yourself to stay healthy. Here are a few: -Follow your doctor’s instructions. Keep your appointments. Your doctor may prescribe medicine for you. Take the medicine just the way he or she tells you to because taking only some of your medicine gives your HIV infection more chance to grow. -Get immunizations (shots) to prevent infections such as pneumonia and flu. Your doctor will tell you when to get these shots. -If you smoke or if you use drugs not prescribed by your doctor, quit. -Eat healthy foods. This will help keep you strong, keep your energy and weight up, and help your body protect itself. -Exercise regularly to stay strong and fit. -Get enough sleep and rest.

How to know you have AIDS (Diagnosis)

You might have HIV and still feel perfectly healthy. The only way to know for sure if you are infected or not is to be tested. Talk with a knowledgeable health care provider or counselor both before and after you are tested. You can go to your doctor or health department for testing. To find out where to go in your area for HIV counseling and testing, call your local health department or the CDC INFO, at 1-800-CDC-INFO (232-4636).

Your doctor or health care provider can give you a confidential HIV test. The information on your HIV test and test results are confidential, as is your other medical information. This means it can be shared only with people authorized to see your medical records. You can ask your doctor, health care provider, or HIV counselor at the place you are tested to explain who can obtain this information. For example, you may want to ask whether your insurance company could find out your HIV status if you make a claim for health insurance benefits or apply for life insurance or disability insurance.

The CDC recommends that everyone know their HIV status. How often you should an HIV test depends on your circumstances. If you have never been tested for HIV, you should be tested. If you have high-risk behaviors, then you should get tested more often. The CDC recommends testing once a year for people with high risk behaviors.

Diseases With Similar Symptoms

When to Seek Urgent Medical Care

SInce HIV weakens the immune system, people with AIDS should be consult with a doctor and get tested if they believe they have it. If you are diagnosed with AIDS, you should be in constant contact with your doctor. People with AIDS are susceptible to infections and cancers that most healthy adults would not get and so they must be very aware of any new diseases which their bodies acquire, and report them to their physicians as they occur.


-Don’t share needles and syringes used to inject drugs, steroids, vitamins, or for tattooing or body piercing. Also, don’t share equipment ("works") used to prepare drugs to be injected. Many people have been infected with HIV, hepatitis, and other germs this way. Germs from an infected person can stay in a needle and then be injected directly into the next person who uses the needle. -The surest way to avoid transmission of sexually transmitted diseases is to abstain from sexual intercourse, or to be in a longterm mutually monogamous relationship with a partner who has been tested and you know is uninfected. -For persons whose sexual behaviors place them at risk for STDs, correct and consistent use of the male latex condom can reduce the risk of STD transmission. However, no protective method is 100 percent effective, and condom use cannot guarantee absolute protection against any STD. The more sex partners you have, the greater your chances are of getting HIV or other diseases passed through sex. -Condoms used with a lubricant are less likely to break. However, condoms with the spermicide nonoxynol-9 are not recommended for STD/HIV prevention. Condoms must be used correctly and consistently to be effective and protective. Incorrect use can lead to condom slippage or breakage, thus diminishing the protective effect. Inconsistent use, e.g., failure to use condoms with every act of intercourse, can result in STD transmission because transmission can occur with a single act of intercourse. -Don’t share razors or toothbrushes because of they may have the blood of another person on them. -If you are pregnant or think you might be soon, talk to a doctor or your local health department about being tested for HIV. If you share HIV, drug treatments are available to help you and they can reduce the chance of passing HIV to your baby.

What to Expect (Outook/Prognosis)

Right now, there is no cure for AIDS. It is always fatal if no treatment is provided. In the US, most patients survive many years after diagnosis because of the availability of medicines such as HAART. HAART and medicines like it have dramatically increased the amount of time people with HIV remain alive.

Research continues in the areas of drug treatments and vaccine development. Unfortunately, HIV medications are not always available in the developing world, where the bulk of cases now occur.

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