HIV Infection and AIDS

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HIV Infection and AIDS

HIV Infection and AIDS

HIV (human immunodeficiency virus) infection is a permanent (chronic) viral infection. HIV kills white blood cells that are called CD4 cells. These cells help to control the body's defense system (immune system) and fight infection. If a person does not have enough CD4 cells, he or she can develop infections, cancers, and other health problems.

What are the causes?

This virus is passed from person to person:
  • Through sex.
  • Through contact with infected blood or other bodily fluids.

An infected mother can also pass the virus to her baby during pregnancy, childbirth, or breastfeeding.

What increases the risk?

This condition is more likely to develop in people who:
  • Have unprotected sex.
  • Share needles or other drug equipment.

What are the signs or symptoms?

Symptoms of this condition usually develop in phases:

Asymptomatic phase

You may not feel sick, or you may only feel sick some of the time. Symptoms may include:
  • Low-grade fever.
  • Headaches.
  • Sore throat.
  • Rash.
  • Fatigue.
  • Nausea, vomiting, or diarrhea.
  • Night sweats.

Early symptomatic phase

You may notice:
  • Your early symptoms getting worse or happening more often.
  • Oral, vaginal, or rectal sores that are caused by infections.
  • Problems that are related to inflammation, such as joint pain.

Symptomatic phase: AIDS, or acquired immunodeficiency syndrome

Your immune system no longer protects you from infections and other health problems. You may get infections you would not normally get if your immune system was healthy and working properly (opportunistic diseases). Problems that are caused by opportunistic diseases include:
  • Coughing.
  • Trouble breathing.
  • Diarrhea.
  • Skin sores.
  • Trouble swallowing.
  • High fevers.
  • Blurred vision.
  • Stiff neck.
  • Mental confusion.

You may also begin to notice:
  • Weight loss.
  • Tingling or pain in your hands and feet.
  • Mouth sores or tooth pain.
  • Severe fatigue.

How is this diagnosed?

This condition is diagnosed with:
  • A screening test to check blood for a protein (antibody) that is produced only when the body is fighting HIV.
  • A blood test to confirm the presence of HIV.

How is this treated?

There is no cure for this condition, but treatment can help to keep HIV from getting worse.
  • You will be given medicines that may slow down the rate at which HIV multiplies in your body (antiretroviral therapy, or ART). ART may:
    • Keep your immune system as healthy as possible and help it work better.
    • Decrease the amount of HIV in your body.
    • Reduce the risk of problems caused by HIV.
    • Prolong your life.
    • Improve the quality of your life.
    • Help prevent passing HIV to someone.
  • You will need to have routine lab tests performed to monitor your treatment and immune system.

Follow these instructions at home:


  • Take over-the-counter and prescription medicines only as told by your health care provider.
  • If you were prescribed an antibiotic medicine, take it as told by your health care provider. Do not stop taking the antibiotic even if you start to feel better.


  • Do not use any products that contain alcohol, nicotine, tobacco, or recreational drugs. These can cause further damage to your immune system. They can also cause problems with your liver, lungs, and heart. If you need help quitting, ask your health care provider.
  • Do not share needles or other equipment used for injecting, smoking, or snorting drugs.
  • Protect yourself from other STIs (sexually transmitted infections) by using condoms when you have sex. This includes vaginal, oral, and anal sex.
  • Eat in a healthy way, get enough sleep, and exercise.

General instructions

  • Tell your sexual partners that you have HIV. Encourage them to get tested.
  • Keep your vaccinations up to date. Make sure that you get all recommended vaccines, including vaccines for hepatitis A, hepatitis B, measles, and influenza.
  • See your dentist regularly. Brush and floss your teeth every day.
  • See a counselor or a social worker to help you solve problems and find any services that you need.
  • Get support from your family and friends.
  • Keep all follow-up visits. This is important. You will need to have routine blood tests every 3–6 months to monitor your health.

How is this prevented?

To prevent the spread of HIV:
  • Talk with your health care provider about protecting your sexual partners from HIV. Your health care provider may encourage your partner to take medicines to decrease the risk of getting HIV (pre-exposure prophylaxis, or PrEP).
  • Use a condom every time you have sex. This includes vaginal, oral, and anal sex.
    • The condom should be in place from the beginning of the sexual activity to the end.
    • Use only latex or polyurethane condoms and water-based lubricants.
    • Wearing a condom reduces your risk of spreading HIV.
  • Avoid alcohol and recreational drugs that affect your judgment. They may make you forget to use a condom or may increase your chances of participating in high-risk sex.
  • Do not share equipment that is used to take drugs, such as needles, syringes, cookers, tourniquets, pipes, or straws. If you share equipment, clean it before and after you use it.

Contact a health care provider if you have:

  • Lost a lot of weight.
  • Extreme fatigue.
  • Trouble swallowing.
  • Vomiting or diarrhea that does not get better.
  • Muscle pain or joint pain.
  • Any problems related to your medicines.

Get help right away if you have:

  • A rash that causes your skin to peel.
  • Blisters inside your mouth.
  • Pain in your abdomen.
  • Eye redness or swelling around your eyes.
  • A high fever and chills.
  • Shortness of breath.
  • A cough that is dry (nonproductive) or wet (productive).
  • Vision problems, such as blind spots, flashing lights, or decreased or blurred vision.
  • A persistent headache, confusion, or changes in the way that you think, feel, or behave (altered mental status).


  • HIV kills white blood cells called CD4 cells that help to control the body's defense system (immune system) and fight infection.
  • Symptoms of this condition usually develop in phases. In the asymptomatic phase, you may not feel sick, or you may only feel sick some of the time.
  • Treatment will include medicines to slow down the rate at which HIV multiplies in your body (antiretroviral therapy, or ART).

This information is not intended to replace advice given to you by your health care provider. Make sure you discuss any questions you have with your health care provider.