The Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV), the virus that causes Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS), is transmitted by blood and body fluids.
Most HIV infections do not have any symptoms. A person infected with HIV can remain healthy and symptom-free for many years. If HIV leads to AIDS, serious symptoms can develop and can ultimately lead to death. Signs and symptoms may include everything from fever and rashes to lesions, soaking night sweats and blurred vision.
There is no cure for HIV, but there are treatment options that allow HIV-positive individuals to live long, healthy lives. If someone is exposed to HIV, or thinks he or she may have been exposed, there is a post-exposure prophylaxis (PEP) that can reduce the likelihood of HIV infection occurring. PEP is medication that should be started as quickly as possible, no later than 72 hours after the exposure.
Although treatment options have improved greatly in recent years, HIV remains a very serious threat. Many people are unaware of their status until later stages, but unfortunately people are the most contagious soon after becoming infected. Being infected with other STIs can make you more susceptible to HIV.
As with all STIs, the most effective protection is to abstain from sexual activity or be monogamous with one long-term partner who has tested negative for HIV. Latex condoms and dental dams can help reduce the risk of contracting or spreading the infection. In addition to sex, HIV can be transmitted through any one of the following: the process of delivering a baby, breastfeeding if the mother is infected, and sharing needles.