Hesperian Health Guides
What are HIV and AIDS?
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HIV (Human Immunodeficiency Virus) is a germ that causes AIDS (Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome) by weakening the immune system, the part of the body that fights off infection and disease.
A person is said to have AIDS when he or she starts to get many common health problems more often than usual and stays sick longer. Some of these problems are losing weight, sores that will not heal, a bad cough, sweating at night, diarrhea, skin rashes, a fever, or feeling very tired all the time.
Without treatment the immune system of a person with AIDS gets weaker and weaker and the person is less able to fight these health problems. Most people with AIDS die from diseases their bodies are no longer strong enough to fight.
Many people who are infected with HIV do not get sick for several years. This means that a person can be infected with HIV and not know they have it because they feel healthy. But HIV can be passed from one person to another as soon as a person is infected. So, the only way to know if you are infected is to take a blood test called an HIV test. This test can be done at many clinics, hospitals, and other locations.
Medicines called anti-retrovirals, or ARVs, can help people with HIV regain their health or stay healthy for many years. ARVs can also help prevent the spread of HIV to a baby or to people who are exposed accidentally. ARVs cannot cure HIV, however. So these medicines must be taken every day, for life.
Medicines for HIV are expensive, though people affected by HIV have organized to make them available in more countries and at lower prices. Many governments and organizations provide ARVs for free either through their own funding or with the support of international donors. Talk to a health worker who has experience working with HIV to find out where to go for treatment for HIV.