What is HIV?

HIV is a virus that attacks the human immune system. There is no cure for HIV. Unlike some other viruses, such as the common cold, HIV cannot be cleared from the body. However, there are treatments available. Talk to your healthcare provider and see below for more information.

How can HIV affect your body?

HIV attacks and destroys CD4 T-cells—important immune system cells that help your body fight infections. The more CD4 T-cells that are destroyed, the weaker your immune system can become. With fewer CD4 T-cells due to HIV, it can be harder for your body to fight illnesses and infections.

What is the difference between HIV and AIDS?

Being HIV positive is not the same as having AIDS (acquired immunodeficiency syndrome). HIV is a virus that kills CD4 T-cells in the body. Over time, if so many CD4 T-cells are killed that the body has a reduced ability to fight infection, HIV can advance to AIDS. HIV infection advances to AIDS when there are less than 200 CD4 T-cells per cubic millimeter of blood. If this happens, it means your immune system has become very weak, and you can quickly become very sick.

How is HIV transmitted?

HIV is transmitted through contact with certain body fluids, such as semen, vaginal or anal fluids, breast milk, and blood. Contact with these body fluids can occur during unprotected sex or when sharing needles or other items with body fluids on them. Mothers can pass the HIV virus to their babies during pregnancy, birth, and breastfeeding. You CANNOT transmit HIV through contact with sweat, tears, saliva, bath or pool water, or by sharing dishes or drinking glasses, hugging or shaking hands.

What are the steps you can take to live healthy with HIV?

HIV does not have a cure, but there are steps you can take to live healthy with HIV, including taking HIV medicines. HIV treatment helps lower your viral load and, as a result, helps protect your immune system.

Ask your healthcare provider about other things you can do to help stay healthy, including:

  • Avoiding sexually transmitted diseases (STDs).
  • Using protection every time you have sex.
  • Never sharing or reusing needles.
  • Getting help with substance abuse, stress, or depression.
  • Exercising and eating well.
  • Stopping smoking. Smoking can be more harmful to people living with HIV.
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