HIV/AIDS Information

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ABOUT HIV/AIDS IN AFRICA

We have to act now, if we don't, the human and financial consequences will be catastrophic.

— Michel Sidibé, UN AIDS Executive Director

What are HIV and AIDS

The human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) is the virus that causes AIDS. HIV attacks the immune system by destroying CD4 positive (CD4+) T cells, a type of white blood cell that is vital to fighting off infection. The destruction of these cells leaves people infected with HIV vulnerable to other infections, diseases and other complications.

The acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS) is the final stage of HIV infection. A person infected with HIV is diagnosed with AIDS when he or she has one or more opportunistic infections, such as pneumonia or tuberculosis, and has a dangerously low number of CD4+ T cells (less than 200 cells per cubic millimeter of blood).

How HIV Causes AIDS

HIV destroys CD4 positive (CD4+) T cells, which are white blood cells crucial to maintaining the function of the human immune system and the infected person is less equipped to fight off infection and disease, ultimately resulting in the development of AIDS.

People infected with HIV can be symptom free for years. But over time, HIV levels increase in the blood while the number of CD4+ T cells decline. Antiretroviral medicines can help reduce the amount of virus in the body, preserve CD4+ T cells and dramatically slow the destruction of the immune system.

Where the Virus is Found

These body fluids contain high concentrations of the HIV virus:

  • Blood
  • Semen
  • Vaginal fluid
  • Breast milk
  • Other body fluids containing blood

HIV has been found in the saliva and tears of some persons living with HIV, but in very low quantities. HIV has not been recovered from the sweat of HIV-infected persons. Contact with saliva, tears, or sweat has never been shown to result in transmission of HIV.

HIV Transmission

HIV cannot live for very long outside the body. As a result, the virus is not transmitted through day-to-day activities such as shaking hands, hugging, or a casual kiss. You cannot become infected from a toilet seat, drinking fountain, doorknob, dishes, drinking glasses, food or pets. You also cannot get HIV from mosquitoes. For information about how HIV is transmitted, visit the CDC website.

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