HIV/AIDS Overview

HIV (human immunodeficiency virus) is a virus that destroys the body's immune system. This makes it hard for the body to fight off illness. HIV can cause AIDS (acquired immunodeficiency syndrome), a group of illnesses caused by a severely weakened immune system.

A person can be infected with HIV and not have any symptoms for many years. There are treatments available to prevent illness, as well as manage symptoms once they develop. It's important for all people who have HIV to get routine exams by their doctor to make sure treatment is working.

How Are People Infected With HIV?

There are several ways that HIV can be spread:

What Are the Symptoms of HIV?

You might not know right away. A person can be infected with HIV and not have any symptoms for many years. That's why getting tested for HIV is so important. Knowing your HIV status can help you prevent spreading the disease and take steps to protect your health so you can live as symptom-free as possible.

You should have an HIV test if you:

You should especially consider HIV testing if you've had unprotected sex or shared needles or IV drugs.

How Can You Reduce Your Risk?

Everyone can help prevent the spread of HIV. Some ways to reduce the risk of HIV are:

Is There a Cure?

At this time, there isn't a cure or vaccine for HIV. There are medicines that can help you stay healthy and fight the virus. These medicines have to be taken on schedule every day and might have serious or unpleasant side effects. Taking these medicines controls HIV and keeps an infected person from passing HIV to sex or drug partners. The medicines do not protect from getting other STIs or hepatitis.

Clinical review by Kathy Brown, MD
Group Health
Reviewed 12/11/2013