AIDS: Fast Facts About STDs

Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS), also known as HIV infection, SIDA, thins.

Type of Disease or Infection
A viral infection caused by the Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV).

How Common Is It?
According to estimates from the Joint, United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) and the World Health Organization (WHO), between 34 and 46 million adults and children were living with HIV at the end of 2003. It is estimated that between 79,000 and one million United States citizens are HIV infected.

How Do I Get It?
HIV is found in the blood, semen and vaginal secretions of infected people, with low concentrations in their saliva. HIV can be spread by having unprotected vaginal, anal or oral sex with an infected person, sharing intravenous needles used for injecting drugs, vitamins or other medications with an infected person. A mother can pass the virus to her fetus or infant during birth or breastfeeding. HIV can be passed through infected blood products, although screening products for infection have been vastly improved since 1985. You do not get HIV from sneezing, coughing, holding hands, or insect bites.

People recently infected with HIV may show no symptoms, or may experience flu-like symptoms within 2 weeks of infection. After several months or years, the following symptoms may appear: swollen lymph glands, weight loss, tiredness, loss of appetite, night sweats, diarrhea, fever, mental disorders, dry cough, thrush (white spots on tongue or mouth), and raised purple spots on the skin. Symptoms in women may include menstrual irregularities, cervical neoplasias, and pelvic inflammatory disease or yeast infection. None of these symptoms by themselves means a person is HIV-infected. However, anyone with a combination of these symptoms, especially when they continue for more than two weeks, should seek medical care.

What Should I Do If I Think I Have It?
Traditionally diagnosed via an antibody blood test, newer tests using cell collection from the mouth are becoming increasingly common, as are viral load tests.

How Do I Get Rid of It?
Although there is no cure, many of the opportunistic diseases can be treated. New antiviral and combination therapies have also been shown to be remarkably effective in reducing the level of active virus in many individuals.

What Happens If I Don't Treat It?
The compromised immune system becomes open to opportunistic infections, ultimately leading to death in most cases.

Who Should I Tell?
If you have HIV or AIDS, you should tell any past, current or future partners.