HIV (human immunodeficiency virus) attacks the body's white blood cells -- specifically a subset called CD4 or helper T cells. This attack allows opportunistic infections to take advantage of a weakened immune system, and can lead to illnesses, cancers, or neurological problems. If you have HIV and develop an opportunistic infection, your HIV infection may have progressed to AIDS (acquired immunodeficiency syndrome). But with careful monitoring, self-care, and treatment, you can prevent many...
Sexual contact. The virus may enter the
body through a tear in the lining of the
urethra, or mouth. About 80% of all cases of HIV are
transmitted by sexual contact.3
Infected blood. HIV can be spread when a person:
Shares needles, syringes, cookers,
cotton, cocaine spoons, or eyedroppers used for injecting drugs or
Is accidentally stuck with a needle or other sharp item
that is contaminated with HIV.
It is now extremely rare in the United States for HIV to
be transmitted by
blood transfusions or organ transplants. Blood and
organ donors are screened for risk factors. All donated blood and organs are
screened for HIV.
Spread of HIV to babies
A woman who is infected
with HIV can spread the virus to her baby during pregnancy, delivery, or
Most children younger than 13 years who have
HIV were infected with the virus by their mothers.
The risk of a
woman spreading HIV to her baby can be greatly reduced if she is on medicine
that reduces her viral load (HIV RNA) to undetectable levels during pregnancy,
if she receives AZT (ZDV) before the baby is born, and if she does not
breast-feed her baby. The baby should also receive treatment after it is born.
Treatment of a baby shortly after birth greatly reduces the chance that the
baby will die from the HIV infection.4
Ways HIV cannot be spread
HIV does not survive
well outside the body. So
HIV cannot be spread through casual contact with an infected person, such as
by sharing drinking glasses or by casual kissing. HIV is not transmitted through
contact with an infected person's saliva, sweat, tears, urine, or feces, or
through insect bites.
Contagious and incubation period
period-the time between when a person is first infected with HIV and when early
symptoms develop-may be a few days to several weeks.
It can take
as little as 2 weeks or as long as 6 months from the time you become infected
with HIV for the antibodies to be detected in your blood. This is commonly
called the "window period," or
seroconversion period. During the window period, you
are contagious and can spread the virus to others. If you think you have been
infected with HIV but you test negative for it, you should be tested again. Tests at 6, 12, and 24 weeks can be done to be sure you
are not infected.