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
Medical experts recommend that people begin treatment for HIV as soon as they know that they are infected.1, 2
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
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
- 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
- Don't share personal items, such as toothbrushes or
- Never share needles or syringes with anyone.
If you are at high risk for getting infected with HIV, you can take antiretroviral medicine to help protect yourself from HIV infection. Experts may recommend this for:3
- People whose sexual practices put them at high risk for HIV infection, such as men who have sex with men and people who have many sex partners.
- People who inject illegal drugs, especially if they share needles.
- Adults who have a sex partner with HIV.
To keep your risk low, you still need to practice safer sex even while you are taking the medicine.