Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) is a virus that attacks the immune system, which is responsible for fighting off infections and diseases. HIV weakens the immune system by destroying white blood cells called CD4 cells or T cells. As a result, people with HIV become more susceptible to infections and illnesses that their body would normally be able to fight off.
HIV is primarily spread through the exchange of bodily fluids, such as blood, semen, and vaginal fluids. The most common ways that HIV is transmitted include unprotected sexual intercourse, sharing needles or other injection drug equipment, and from mother to child during pregnancy, childbirth, or breastfeeding.
Symptoms of HIV can vary, and some people may not experience any symptoms at all for many years after being infected. However, common symptoms can include fever, fatigue, sore throat, rash, and swollen lymph nodes. If left untreated, HIV can progress to Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome (AIDS), which is a more advanced stage of the disease. At this stage, the immune system is severely damaged and the person is at high risk for developing life-threatening infections and cancers.
There is currently no cure for HIV, but antiretroviral therapy (ART) can help people with HIV live longer and healthier lives. ART involves taking a combination of medications that target the virus at different stages of its life cycle. With proper treatment and care, many people with HIV can achieve an undetectable viral load, which means that the amount of virus in their blood is so low that it cannot be detected by standard lab tests. This not only improves their health outcomes, but also reduces the risk of transmitting HIV to others.