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HIV INFECTION & AIDS (Human Immunodeficiency Virus; Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome)

General Information

DEFINITION--A major failure of the body's immune system (immunodeficiency). This decreases the body's ability to fight infection and suppress multiplication of abnormal cells, such as cancer. It affects the immune system, including special blood cells (lymphocytes) and cells of the organs (bone marrow, spleen, liver and lymph glands). These cells manufacture antibodies to protect against disease and cancer. AIDS is a secondary immunodeficiency syndrome resulting from HIV infection.

BODY PARTS INVOLVED--Lungs; central nervous system; gastrointestinal system.

SEX OR AGE MOST AFFECTED--Both sexes; all ages; most common in young male adults, ages 25-44.


  • Initial HIV infection may produce no symptoms.
  • Fatigue; unexplained weight loss.
  • Night sweats; fever; diarrhea.
  • Recurrent respiratory and skin infections.
  • Swollen lymph glands throughout the body.
  • Genital changes; enlarged spleen.
  • Mouth sores.


HIV is a virus that invades and destroys cells of the immune system, resulting in lowered resistance to infections and some cancers. > The virus is transmitted by:

    Sexual contact among infected persons. Using contaminated needles for IV drug use. Transfusions of blood or blood products from a person with acquired immune deficiency syndrome (rare). Children born to an HIV infected mother.

Note: Usual non-sexual contact does not transmit the disease.


  • Multiple male-to-male sexual partners or male-to-female sexual partners (less likely).
  • Exposure of hospital workers and laboratory technicians to blood, feces and urine of HIV positive patients. Greatest risk is with an accidental needle injury.
  • Infants born to mothers with HIV infection.
  • Intravenous drug abuse.


  • 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.
  • The 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 not to donate blood, sperm, organs or tissue.

What To Expect

DIAGNOSTIC MEASURES----Laboratory blood studies of blood cells and HIV antibody test (may not become positive for 6 months after contact).

APPROPRIATE HEALTH CARE--As needed depending on symptoms and care required. Ultra-close medical monitoring is important.


    Serious infection; cancer; death.

PROBABLE OUTCOME--This condition is currently considered incurable. However, symptoms can be relieved or controlled and scientific research into causes and treatment continues. AIDS may not develop for years following a positive HIV test. Once ill, survival averages 2-1/2 years, but may vary.

How To Treat


  • Early diagnosis is helpful. If you are at risk, get a medical evaluation even if you feel well.
  • Contact AIDS support groups.
  • Avoid exposure to infections.
  • See Resources for Additional Information.


  • Drugs are currently not effective in curing HIV or AIDS. Antibiotics may be prescribed to prevent infections or control them.
  • Several antiviral drugs (e.g., zidovudine and acyclovir) are used.


  • No restrictions on normal activity.
  • Get adequate rest, and exercise.


  • Maintain good nutrition. Malabsorption, altered metabolism and weight loss are common; take vitamin supplements.
  • Avoid raw eggs, unpasteurized milk or other potentially contaminated foods.

Call Your Doctor If

  • Infection occurs after diagnosis. Symptoms include fever, cough, diarrhea.
  • New symptoms develop.
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