Sexually transmitted diseases can happen if you have unprotected sex with someone who is already infected. Human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) is a virus that can be spread through unprotected sex (and some other ways). It attacks your white blood cells called helper T cells (CD4). Acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS) happens when you've been infected with HIV for a long time. AIDS is a condition that shows that your immune system has become weak from HIV.
Helper T cells are part of your immune system. They help fight off infections and diseases. An HIV infection can make you more likely to have a severe illness because your immune system is weakened.
If you have AIDS, you probably have one or more other infections because of your weak immune system (these are called opportunistic infections).
Treating HIV & AIDS at UVA Health
HIV can spread through contact with blood or other body fluids from someone with HIV. This includes semen, vaginal fluid, and breast milk. You can prevent HIV infection by avoiding contact with those fluids. That can look like:
- Using condoms or other types of safe-sex devices that make a barrier between you and your partner
- If you're a drug user, avoiding sharing needles
- If you're a healthcare worker, wearing, gloves, masks, and other gear during procedures, and carefully following safety guidelines
- If you live with an HIV-positive person, avoid sharing razors, toothbrushes, or other personal care items
HIV may not cause any symptoms for years after infection.
You may have some early symptoms a month or 2 after infection. They may feel like you have the flu, and include fever, joint pain or body aches, tiredness, and swelling of lymph nodes.
After that, you likely won't have any symptoms for months to years. You may feel some symptoms during that time.
Without treatment, HIV eventually causes AIDS. People with AIDS are more likely to have other health conditions like:
- Fungal infections
- Kaposi's sarcoma
- Cervical cancer
- Intestinal infections
- Skin rashes
- Problems with medications
There are medicines that prevent, delay, or control the development of AIDS if you already have HIV. If you have other conditions, we'll treat those as well.
Drugs That Treat HIV
There are drugs for fighting viruses (antiviral drugs). They're often given in combination. These drugs include:
- Nucleoside reverse transcriptase inhibitors
- Nonucleoside reverse transcriptase inhibitors
- Protease inhibitors
- HIV-1 integrase inhibitors
- HIV-1 fusion inhibitors
- CC chemokine receptor 5 antagonists
Medicines for AIDS-Related Infections or Cancers
People with AIDS may need other medicines to treat opportunistic infections. These may include antibiotics or anti-fungal medications.
Managing Life with HIV
HIV is transmitted by blood or sexual contact. With symptoms ranging from none to flu-like, most people with HIV never even notice it until later stages of the disease. Patrick Jackson, MD, explains HIV and how ongoing treatment can lead patients to a long and fulfilling life. View HIV transcript.
HIV is most commonly spread through:
- Sexual contact with an HIV-infected person
- Passing of HIV from a mother to child during pregnancy, childbirth, or breastfeeding
- Using an HIV-contaminated needle
Very rarely, HIV can be spread by:
- A blood transfusion
- Sharing personal hygiene items with an HIV-infected person
- Blood from an HIV-infected person getting into someone else's wound
- Being bitten by someone with HIV