Grace was a happily married woman with a family and a
career. After more than 20 years of marriage, her husband left her. After her
divorce, she began dating George, a close family friend she had known for
years. They became lovers. Because she was beyond childbearing years, she
wasn't worried about getting pregnant and didn't think about using condoms. And
because she had known George for years, it didn't occur to her to ask about his
sexual history or if he had been tested for HIV.
When you have HIV, it’s important to know what can happen in your body.
It doesn’t just affect your immune system. The virus and the drugs taken to treat it can affect your eyes, heart, kidneys, liver, and brain.
At age 55 she had a routine medical checkup. Her blood
tested positive for HIV. George had infected her. She will spend the rest of
her life worrying that the virus would develop into life-threatening AIDS --
that any cough, sneeze, rash, or flu would, in fact, indicate AIDS and perhaps
the beginning of the end of her life.
What Are HIV and AIDS?
HIV (short for human immunodeficiency virus) is a virus that
kills cells in your immune system, the system that fights diseases. Once your
immune system is weakened to the point where you get certain types of
life-threatening diseases, infections, and cancers, you have what is called
AIDS (short for acquired immunodeficiency syndrome). AIDS is the most advanced
stage of HIV infection. If there's any chance that you might be infected with
HIV, you should be tested, because now there are drugs you can take to help
your body keep the HIV in check and fight off AIDS.
Many people do not have any symptoms when they are first
infected with HIV. It can take as little as a few weeks for minor flu-like
symptoms to show up or as long as 10 years or more for more serious symptoms.
Symptoms can include headache, chronic cough, diarrhea, swollen glands, lack of
energy, loss of appetite and weight loss, frequent fevers and sweats, frequent
yeast infections, skin rashes, pelvic and abdominal cramps, sores on certain
parts of your body, and short-term memory loss. People age 50 and older may not
recognize HIV symptoms in themselves because they think what they are feeling
and experiencing is part of normal aging.
How Do People Get HIV/AIDS?
ANYONE can get HIV and AIDS. Regardless of your age, and
especially if you are 50 or older, you may be at risk for HIV if any of the
following is true:
If you are sexually active and don't use a male latex
condom. You can get HIV/AIDS from having sex with someone who is infected
with the HIV virus. The virus passes from the infected person to another
through the exchange of body fluids such as blood, semen, and vaginal fluid.
HIV can get into your body during sex through any opening, such as a tear or
cut in the lining of the vagina, vulva, penis, rectum, or mouth.