by Rick Alan
Acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS) is an illness that weakens the body's immune system. The immune systems of people with AIDS are not able to fight off certain infections and cancers .
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AIDS is caused by the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), which destroys important immune system cells. HIV is spread through contact with HIV-infected blood or other body fluids including semen, vaginal fluid, and breast milk.
HIV is spread through:
Rarely, HIV can be spread through:
A risk factor is something that increases your chance of getting a disease or condition.
Risk factors include:
HIV may not cause symptoms for a number of years.
Early symptoms that you may experience a month or two after becoming infected may last a couple of weeks. These include:
After these initial symptoms are gone, there may be no symptoms for months to years. Then, the following symptoms may occur over the course of 1-3 years:
Once HIV has progressed to AIDS, the immune system has become quite weakened. Opportunistic infections are infections that people with a normal immune system don't usually get. These infections occur in patients with AIDS because the immune system isn't able to fight them off. Examples of opportunistic infections and other complications of AIDS include:
The doctor will ask about your symptoms, medical history, and risk factors, and perform a physical exam.
A blood test called an ELISA test is used to detect HIV infection. If an ELISA test is positive, the Western blot blood test is usually done to confirm the diagnosis. The ELISA test may be negative if you were infected with HIV recently. Many people (95%) will have a positive test within three months. Most people (99%) will have a positive test within six months. If an ELISA test is negative, but you think you may have HIV, you should be tested again in 1-3 months.
With medication, the development of AIDS can be prevented, delayed, or controlled in many people infected with HIV.
Drugs That Fight HIV
These drugs are often given in combination, referred to popularly as "AIDS cocktails." They include:
Nucleoside reverse transcriptase inhibitors:
Non-nucleoside reverse transriptase inhibitors:
Drugs That Fight AIDS-related Infections and Cancers
People who have developed AIDS are treated with numerous drugs that help prevent:
To prevent becoming infected with HIV:
In addition, three recent trials involving over 11,000 Africans found that circumcised men were significantly less likely to develop HIV infection compared to uncircumcised men. While this finding has less relevance in the US, where most men are already circumcised and the risk of HIV is far lower, it is still important to consider that circumcision can apparently reduce the risk of HIV transmission. *
To prevent spreading HIV to others if you are HIV infected:
American Foundation for AIDS Research
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
NIH News. Adult male circumcision significantly reduces risk of acquiring HIV [press release]. December 13, 2006. National Institutes of Health website. Available at: www.nih.gov/.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. Available at www.cdc.gov
The Merck Manual of Medical Information . Simon and Schuster, Inc.; 2000.
The National Center for HIV, STD, and Tuberculosis Prevention website. Available at www.cdc.gov/nchstp/od/nchstp.html
Rey D, Krebs M, Partisani M, Hess G, et al. Virologic response of zidovudine, lamivudine, and tenofovir disoproxil fumarate combination in antiretroviral-naive HIV-1-infected patients. J Acquir Immune Defic Syndr . 2006;43(5): 530-534.
Ross LL, Parkin N, Gerondelis P, et al. Differential impact of thymidine analogue mutations on emtricitabine and lamivudine susceptibility. J Acquir Immune Defic Syndr . 2006;43(5):567-570.
Updated Prevention section on 3/8/2007 according to the following studies, as cited by DynaMed's Systematic Literature Surveillance : Auvert B, Taljaard D, Lagard E, Sobngwi-Tambekou J, Sitta R, Puren A. Randomized, controlled intervention trial of male circumcision for reduction of HIV infection risk: the ANRS 1265 Trial. PLoS Med. 2005;2(11):e298. Epub Oct 25, 2005.
Bailey RC, Moses S, Parker CB, et al. Male circumcision for HIV prevention in young men in Kisumu, Kenya: a randomised controlled trial. Lancet. 2007 Feb 24;369(9562):643-656.
Gray RH, Kigozi G, Serwadda D, et al. Male circumcision for HIV prevention in men in Rakai, Uganda: a randomised trial. Lancet. 2007 Feb 24;369(9562):657-666.
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.