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What is HIV?

HIV is a virus that damages the immune system. The immune system helps the body fight off infections. Over time, as HIV kills more CD4 cells (a type of immune cell called T cells), the body is more likely to get various types of infections and cancers.

HIV is transmitted through bodily fluids that include:

  • blood

  • semen

  • vaginal and rectal fluids

  • breast milk

What is AIDS?

AIDS is a disease that can develop in people with HIV. It’s the most advanced stage of HIV. But just because a person has HIV doesn’t mean they’ll develop AIDS.

A person can also be diagnosed with AIDS if they have HIV and develop an opportunistic infection or cancer that’s rare in people who don’t have HIV, when the immune system is severely compromised; that makes the person vulnerable to a wide range of illnesses, including:

Anyone can contract HIV. The virus is transmitted in bodily fluids.

What are the symptoms of HIV?

After the first month or so, HIV enters the clinical latency stage. This stage can last from a few years to a few decades. Some people don’t have any symptoms during this time, while others may have minimal or nonspecific symptoms.

These nonspecific symptoms may include:

  • headaches and other aches and pains

  • swollen lymph nodes

  • recurrent fevers

  • night sweats

  • fatigue

  • nausea

  • vomiting

  • diarrhea

  • weight loss

  • skin rashes

  • recurrent oral or vaginal yeast infections

  • pneumonia

  • shingles

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