What is HIV (human immunodeficiency virus)?

HealthyWomen
Administration
Human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) is the virus that causes acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS). AIDS is a disease that attacks the body's immune system. The immune system is our body's natural defense system and allows us to fight off viruses, bacteria and other diseases.

HIV was first reported as a threat by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in 1981 and now is a worldwide problem. When HIV was discovered, it was diagnosed almost entirely in men. Now, one in four people living with HIV are women.

The good news is that HIV is much more manageable than in the past. Originally, HIV was practically a death sentence. Few drugs were available to treat the virus, and resulting infections attacked the weakened immune system. Since then, a number of drugs have been developed and approved to treat both HIV and its related infections. These medications have extended the lives of many people living with the disease.

But the drugs used to manage HIV certainly aren't perfect. And they come with side effects that range from nausea and vomiting to life-threatening reactions. Therefore, all people -- men, women, teenagers and even people over 50 -- need to be careful about protecting themselves from being infected with the virus in the first place.
SAGE
Healthcare
Human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) is a virus that weakens the body’s immune system and its ability to fight off diseases and other infections. HIV spreads through bodily fluids -- unprotected sex and sharing needles are the most common forms of transmission. A long­lasting HIV infection can lead to acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS). Thanks to recent advancements in HIV/AIDS treatments -- particularly highly active antiretroviral therapies (HAART) -- many people with HIV/AIDS are living long and healthy lives, transforming HIV for many into a chronic but manageable illness. 
HIV stands for human immunodeficiency virus. If HIV is not treated properly, it can lead to acquired immunodeficiency syndrome, or AIDS. In the United States, HIV is spread mainly by having unprotected sex or by sharing needles or other drug equipment (works) with someone who has HIV.

Once you have HIV, you have it for life. Your body cannot get rid of HIV.

HIV harms your body's infection fighters—the cells of the immune system called CD4 cells, or T cells. Over time, HIV can destroy so many of these cells that your body can’t fight off infections and disease. When this happens, HIV leads to AIDS.

The presence of the CDC logo and CDC content on this page should not be construed to imply endorsement by the US Government of any commercial products or services, or to replace the advice of a medical professional. The mark “CDC” is licensed under authority of the PHS.
RealAge
Administration
HIV (human immunodeficiency virus) is a virus that destroys the body's ability to fight off infection. HIV causes AIDS (acquired immunodeficiency syndrome). It can take up to 10 years or more between HIV infection and the diagnosis of AIDS. People infected with HIV may or may not have symptoms. Some common symptoms are unexplained weight loss, a white coating on the tongue, sore and enlarged glands in the neck, armpits or other parts of the body, persistent fever or cough.
HIV, or human immunodeficiency virus, is a life-threatening virus that is spread by sexual contact, mother to infant transmission or infected blood contact. There is no cure, but medications are available that help slow the progression of the disease.
William D. King, MD
Internal Medicine
HIV or the human immunodeficiency virus can cause disease that can be serious if untreated or the person does not seek medical cure. When I first evaluate someone who has positive results from the ELISA and the Western Blot, I also note the condition of their immune system by measuring a type of white blood cell, called a T Cell or CD4 cell. I also measure the amount of virus in their blood or a viral load. This helps me determine the need for medication. Some people have a genetic makeup that they are slow progressors and do not need medications or antiretrovirals. Persons who are positive and have a low CD4 count and high viral load are prescribed antiretrovirals. I have seen many persons turn around and live quality lives once the virus is treated. HIV should be considered a  chronic disease where you take medications to control the symptoms just like hypertension or diabetes. So yes it can be serious if untreated, uncontrolled or there is lack of medical care, otherwise, there is no reason why someone who is positive cannot live with the disease and have good quality of life.
HIV, or human immunodeficiency virus, attacks the CD4 cells in the immune system, which help fight off infections and some cancer. HIV causes AIDS (acquired immune deficiency syndrome) when the infection is advanced. HIV is spread by contact with bodily fluids that are infected with the virus, including blood, semen, vaginal fluids, and breast milk. It is not spread by saliva or nasal discharge, like a cold or flu. Unlike cold and flu viruses, HIV does not survive long outside the body. Sexual contact and sharing needles for drug use are the main ways HIV is spread.

Continue Learning about HIV and AIDS

HIV and AIDS

HIV and AIDS

HIV, the human immunodeficiency virus, slowly destroys the body’s immune system and causes AIDS if not treated. It can be spread through unprotected sex and sexual contact, contaminated blood transfusions, contaminated needles and ...

syringes, and through breastfeeding or transferred at birth from a mother to her child.
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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.