Acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS) is a chronic, potentially life-threatening condition that is caused by the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV). By damaging your immune system, HIV interferes with the ability of your body to fight diseases and infections.
HIV is a sexually transmitted infection that can spread by contact with infected blood or from mother to child during childbirth, pregnancy, or breastfeeding. Without medications, it may take years before HIV weakens your immune system to the point that you’ll develop AIDS.
The signs that you have AIDS include:
CD4 T cells – white blood cells that play an important role in fighting disease – are destroyed by HIV. You will have a weak immune system if you have fewer CD4 T cells.
A person can be infected with HIV for years with few or no symptoms before they develop AIDS. If you have an AIDS-defining complication, such as a severe infection or cancer, or your CD4 T cell count drops below 200, you will be diagnosed with AIDS.
Anyone of any age, race, sex or sexual orientation can be infected with AIDS. However, you are at greatest risk of AIDS if you:
AIDS is not passed on easily from one person to another. The virus does not spread through the air like cold and flu viruses. The infection lives in the blood and some body fluids. To get it, one of these fluids from someone with the infection has to get into your blood. The body fluids that contain enough HIV to infect someone are:
Other body fluids like sweat, saliva, or urine, do not contain enough of the virus to infect another person.
This disease cannot be cured, but there are very effective treatments that allow most people with the virus to live a long and healthy life.
The treatment for AIDS is called antiretroviral therapy (ART). ART involves taking a combination of medicines every day. ART is recommended for everyone who has the infection. It cannot cure HIV, but medications help people live longer and healthier lives. ART also reduces the risk of transmission.