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Human Immunodeficiency Virus

What is HIV?

HIV (Human immunodeficiency virus) is a virus that progressively destroys the body's ability to fight infections and certain cancers by killing or damaging cells of the body's immune system. AIDS (Acquired immunodeficiency syndrome) is a secondary immunodeficiency syndrome resulting from HIV infection. People diagnosed with AIDS may get life threatening diseases that usually do not make a healthy person sick.

How does it occur?

HIV is a virus that invades and destroys cells of the immune system. HIV infection results in lowered resistance to other infections and some cancers. Risk of being infected with HIV increases with:

  • Sexual contact with infected persons.
  • Multiple sexual partners.
  • Anal intercourse.
  • Use of contaminated needles for intravenous drug use.
  • Transfusions of blood or blood products from a person with AIDS (rare)
  • Children born to HIV infected mothers.
  • Exposure of hospital workers and laboratory technicians to blood, feces and urine of HIV positive patients. Greatest risk is with an accidental needle injury.

    *NOTE: Usual nonsexual contact does not transmit the disease, so a person with
    HIV infection is not a risk to the general population.

What are the symptoms?

Many women infected with HIV have no symptoms with an initial infection. Symptoms of HIV include:

  • Fatigue, unexplained weight loss
  • Recurrent respiratory and skin infections;
  • fever
  • Swollen lymph glands throughout the body
  • Genital changes
  • Enlarged spleen
  • Diarrhea
  • Mouth sores
  • Night sweats

How is it diagnosed?

The most accurate way of testing for this virus is through a blood test called Western Blot. This consists of a tube of blood drawn at the office and sent off to the lab. Tests may not be positive for HIV if the patient has been newly infected. Therefore, you may wish to be retested in 6 months.

What is the treatment?

HIV is treated with multiple drugs that are used to control and prevent other infections. These drugs do not cure HIV but they do help slow down the progression. HIV infected pregnant women can take AZT (zidovudine) to help reduce the risk of HIV infection in the newborn.

What are the possible complications from HIV?

  • Serious infection in various body systems
  • Cancer
  • Death

How can I help prevent HIV?

  • Avoid sexual contact with affected persons or known intravenous drug users
  • Sexual activity should be restricted to partners whose sexual histories are known
  • Use condoms for vaginal and anal intercourse.
  • Risk of oral sex is not fully known. Ejaculation into the mouth should be avoided
  • Avoid intravenous self-administered drugs. Do not share unsterilized needles.
  • Avoid unscreened blood products
  • Infected people or those in risk groups are advised not to donate blood, sperm, organs or tissue