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HIV infection is a condition caused by the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV). The condition gradually destroys the immune system, which makes it harder for the body to fight infections.
This article provides a general overview. For more detailed information, see:
Human immunodeficiency virus infection
The human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) can be spread by the following:
People who become infected with HIV may have no symptoms for up to 10 years, but they can still pass the infection to others. After being exposed to the virus, it can take up to 3 months for the HIV ELISA blood test to change from HIV negative to HIV positive.
HIV has spread throughout the U.S. The disease is more common in urban areas, especially in inner cities.
See also: AIDS for a more complete description of how HIV is spread.
Symptoms related to HIV are usually due to a different infection in the body. Some symptoms related to HIV infection include:
Note: Many people have no symptoms when they are diagnosed with HIV.
The HIV ELISA and HIV Western blot tests detect antibodies to the HIV virus in the blood. Both tests must be positive to confirm an HIV infection. Having these antibodies means you are infected with HIV.
A lower-than-normal CD4 cell count may be a sign that the virus is damaging your immune system.
Doctors often recommend drug therapy for patients who are committed to taking all their medications and have a CD4 count below 500 cells/mm3 (indicating their immune system is suppressed). Some people, including pregnant women and people with kidney or neurological problems related to HIV, may need treatment regardless of their CD4 count.
It is extremely important for people with HIV to take all doses of their medications, otherwise the virus may become resistant to the drugs. Therapy always involves a combination of antiviral drugs. Pregnant women with HIV infection are treated to reduce the chance of transmitting HIV to their babies.
People with HIV infection need to become educated about the disease and treatment so that they can be active participants in making decisions with their health care provider.
See: AIDS - support group
HIV is a chronic medical condition that can be treated, but not yet cured. There are effective ways to prevent complications and delay, but not always prevent, progression to AIDS.
Almost all people infected with HIV will develop AIDS if not treated. However, there is a small group of people who develop AIDS very slowly, or never at all. These patients are called long-term nonprogressors.
Call your health care provider if you have had a possible or actual exposure to AIDS or HIV infection.
Piot P. Human immunodeficiency virus infection and acquired immunodeficiency syndrome: A global overview. In: Goldman L, Ausiello D, eds. Cecil Medicine. 23rd ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Saunders Elsevier;2007:chap 407.
Del Rio C, Curran JW. Epidemiology and prevention of acquired immunodeficiency syndrome and human immunodeficiency virus infection. In: Mandell GL, Bennett JE, Dolin R, eds. Principles and Practice of Infectious Diseases. 7th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Elsevier Churchill Livingstone; 2009:chap 118.
Sterling TR, Chaisson RE. General clinical manifestations of human immunodeficiency virus infection (including the acute retroviral syndrome and oral, cutaenous, renal, ocular, metabolic, and cardiac diseases. In: Mandell GL, Bennett JE, Dolin R, eds. Principles and Practice of Infectious Diseases. 7th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Elsevier Churchill Livingstone; 2009:chap 121.