Understand HIV/AIDS, and its causes and symptoms.



What is HIV/AIDS?

HIV/AIDS is a progressive medical condition caused by the Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV). AIDS (Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome) is the advanced stage of the HIV infection when the cells in your immune system have been severely damaged, weakening your ability to fight off everyday infections and disease.


HIV/AIDS is caused by the Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV). The virus cannot survive for long outside the human body, so you are most likely to come into contact with HIV through body fluids during:

  • Unprotected sexual intercourse (vaginal, anal, and oral) with an infected partner
  • Sharing contaminated needles or syringes in intravenous drug use, accidental occupational needle-stick injuries, or unscreened blood transfusions (screening has been a requirement in the UK since 1985)
  • Pregnancy, childbirth, or breastfeeding

What does not cause HIV/AIDS?

You can not get HIV/AIDS through casual contact such as hugging, shaking hands, sharing utensils, or from breathing in respiratory droplets like those that cause cold or flu viruses. Nor can you get it through insect bites, sweat, tears, or saliva (unless blood is present in the saliva).

Symptoms & Stages

The symptoms of HIV/AIDS depend on the stage (1, 2, or 3) of the HIV infection:

Acute infection (Stage 1)

Most people infected with HIV experience a short, flu-like illness that occurs 2-6 weeks after infection and usually last 1-2 weeks but can be longer. Symptoms for Stage 1 include:

  • Raised temperature (fever)
  • Sore throat
  • Body rash

Chronic infection (Stage 2)

After the initial infection, HIV may not cause any symptoms for several years or even decades.

AIDS (Stage 3)

Once the immune system becomes severely damaged, symptoms can include:

  • Weight loss
  • Chronic diarrhoea
  • Night sweats
  • Skin problems
  • Recurrent infections
  • Serious life-threatening illnesses

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