What is HIV
HIV is a virus that enters your body and begins to destroy T cells. You need T cells in order to fight infections. HIV spreads through bodily fluids that include:
- vaginal and rectal fluids
- breast milk
The first few weeks after infection is called the acute infection stage. During this time the virus rapidly reproduces. Your immune system responds by producing HIV antibodies. Many people experience temporary flu-like symptoms during this stage. Even without symptoms, HIV is highly contagious during this time.
After the first month or so, HIV enters the clinical latency stage. This stage can last from a few years to a few decades. Progression can be slowed with antiretroviral therapy. Some people have symptoms. Many people do not, but it’s still contagious.
As the virus progresses, you’re left with fewer T cells. This makes you more susceptible to disease, infection, and infection-related cancers.
HIV is a lifetime condition with no cure. Medical care, including antiretroviral therapy, can help manage HIV and prevent AIDS.
What is AIDS?
AIDS is a disease caused by HIV. It’s the most advanced stage of HIV. But just because you have HIV doesn’t mean you’ll develop AIDS.
HIV destroys T cells called CD4 cells. These cells help your immune system fight infections. Healthy adults generally have a CD4 count of 800 to 1,000 per cubic millimeter. If you have HIV and your CD4 count falls below 200 per cubic millimeter, you will be diagnosed with AIDS.
You can also be diagnosed with AIDS if you have HIV and develop an opportunistic infection that is rare in people who don’t have HIV.
AIDS weakens your immune system to the point where it can no longer fight off most diseases and infections. That makes you vulnerable to a wide range of illnesses, including:
- cytomegalovirus, a type of herpes virus
- cryptococcal meningitis
- toxoplasmosis, an infection causes by a parasite
- cryptosporidiosis, an infection caused by an intestinal parasite
- cancer, including Kaposi’s sarcoma (KS) and lymphoma
- kidney disease
In 2015, about 36.7 million people worldwide were living with HIV. Only about 46 percent had access to antiretroviral therapy. Of the 2.1 million newly infected people, 150,000 were under age 15.
Since the pandemic began, 78 million people have contracted HIV, and AIDS has claimed 35 million lives. In 2015, 1.1 million people died from AIDS-related diseases.
East and southern Africa are hardest hit. In 2015, 19 million people were living with HIV, and 960,000 more became infected. The region has 46 percent of new HIV infections worldwide.
Every 9.5 minutes, someone in the United States becomes infected. That’s more than 56,000 new cases a year. It is estimated that 1.1 million Americans are currently living with HIV. And 1 in 5 are unaware they are infected.
About 180,000 American women are living with HIV. In the United States, almost half of all new cases occur in African-Americans.
About 97 percent of people develop detectable HIV antibodies 21 to 84 days after infection.
Untreated, a woman with HIV has a 25 percent chance of passing HIV to her baby during pregnancy or breastfeeding. With antiretroviral therapy and without breastfeeding, it’s less than 2 percent.
In the 1990s, a 20-year-old person infected with HIV had a life expectancy of 19 years. By 2011, it had improved to 53 years.