Skip to content

HIV & AIDS Health Center

Font Size

HIV (Human Immunodeficiency Virus) Infection - Topic Overview

The standard treatment for HIV is a combination of medicines called antiretroviral therapy, or ART. Antiretroviral medicines slow the rate at which the virus multiplies.

Taking these medicines can reduce the amount of virus in your body and help you stay healthy.

Medical experts recommend that people begin treatment for HIV as soon as they know that they are infected.1, 2

To monitor the HIV infection and its effect on your immune system, a doctor will regularly do two tests:

  • Viral load, which shows the amount of virus in your blood.
  • CD4+ cell count, which shows how well your immune system is working.

After you start treatment, it's important to take your medicines exactly as directed by your doctor. When treatment doesn't work, it is often because HIV has become resistant to the medicine. This can happen if you don't take your medicines correctly.

HIV is often spread by people who don't know they have it. So it's always important to protect yourself and others by taking these steps:

  • Practice safer sex. Use a condom every time you have sex (including oral sex) until you are sure that you and your partner aren't infected with HIV or other sexually transmitted infection (STI).
  • Don't have more than one sex partner at a time. The safest sex is with one partner who has sex only with you.
  • Talk to your partner before you have sex the first time. Find out if he or she is at risk for HIV. Get tested together. Getting tested again at 6, 12, and 24 weeks after the first test can be done to be sure neither of you is infected. Use condoms in the meantime.
  • Don't drink a lot of alcohol or use illegal drugs before sex. You might let down your guard and not practice safer sex.
  • Don't share personal items, such as toothbrushes or razors.
  • Never share needles or syringes with anyone.

You also can take antiretroviral medicine to help protect yourself from HIV infection. But to keep your risk low, you still need to practice safer sex even while you are taking the medicine.

1|2|3|4
Next Article:

Today on WebMD

misconception
How much do you know?
contemplative man
What to do now.
 
research
Should you be tested?
HIV under microscope
What does it mean?
 
HIV AIDS Screening
Slideshow
man opening condom wrapper
Quiz
 
HIV AIDS Treatment
Feature
Discrimination Stigma
Feature
 
Treatment Side Effects
Feature
grilled chicken and vegetables
Article
 
obese man standing on scale
Article
cold sore
Article
 

WebMD Special Sections