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 HIV (human immunodeficiency virus) is a worldwide infection. In order to understand HIV and AIDS, it is important to understand the meaning behind these terms:

  • HIV – human immunodeficiency virus - one of a group of viruses known as retroviruses. After getting into the body, the virus damages and/or kills immune cells. The body tries to keep up by making new cells or trying to contain the virus, but eventually the HIV wins out and progressively destroys the body's ability to fight infections and certain cancers.
  • AIDS – acquired immunodeficiency syndrome - occurs when HIV has destroyed such a large amount of the body's defenses that immune-cell counts fall to critical levels that certain life-threatening infections or cancers develop.

How is it spread?

HIV is transmitted through infected cells or semen. These are the possible ways:

  • Sexual contact with an infected partner. The virus can enter the body through the lining of the vagina, vulva, penis, rectum, or mouth during sex.
  • The virus is spread among injection-drug users who share needles or syringes that are contaminated with blood from an infected person.
  • Women can transmit HIV to their babies during pregnancy or birth, when infected maternal cells enter the baby's circulatory environment.
  • HIV can be spread in health-care settings through accidental needle pricks or contact with contaminated fluids.
  • Very rarely, HIV spreads through transfusion of contaminated blood or body parts. If tissues or organs from an infected person are transplanted, the recipient may acquire HIV. Donors are now tested for HIV to minimize this risk.
  • People who already have a sexually transmitted disease, such as syphilis, genital herpes, chlamydial infection, gonorrhea, or bacterial vaginosis, are more likely to acquire HIV infection during sex with an infected partner.


The virus does not spread through casual contact such as:

  • preparing food
  • sharing towels and bedding
  • swimming pools
  • telephones
  • toilet seats
  • the virus is also unlikely to be spread by contact with saliva, unless it is contaminated with blood


Many people with HIV are not aware of the infection.

  • Many people do not develop symptoms after they first get infected with HIV. Others have a flu-like illness within several days to weeks after exposure to the virus. They complain of:
    • Fever
    • Headache
    • Tiredness
    • Enlarged lymph nodes in the neck


These symptoms usually disappear on their own within a few weeks. After that, the person feels normal and has no symptoms. This asymptomatic phase often lasts for years.

  • The progression of the disease varies widely among individuals. This state may last from a few months to more than 10 years.
    • During this period, the virus continues to multiply actively and infects and kills the cells of the immune system.
    • The virus destroys the cells that are the primary infection fighters, called CD4 cells.
    • Even though the person has no symptoms, he or she is contagious and can pass HIV to others.


AIDS is the later stage of HIV infection, when the body begins losing its ability to fight infections. Once the CD4 cell count falls low enough, an infected person is said to have AIDS. Sometimes, the diagnosis of AIDS is made because the person has unusual infections or cancers that show how weak the immune system is:


The infections that happen with AIDS are called opportunistic infections because they take advantage of the opportunity to infect a weakened host. The infections include (but are not limited to):

  • pneumonia caused by Pneumocystis, which causes wheezing,
  • brain infection with toxoplasmosis which can cause trouble thinking or symptoms that mimic a stroke,
  • widespread infection by a bacteria called MAC (mycobacterium avium complex) which can cause fever and weight loss,
  • esophageal yeast infection which causes pain with swallowing, and widespread diseases with certain fungi like histoplasmosis, which can cause fever, cough, anemia, and other problems.


A weakened immune system can also lead to other unusual conditions:

  • lymphoma in the brain, which can cause fever and trouble thinking;
  • or a cancer of the tissues called Kaposi's sarcoma, which causes brown, reddish, or purple spots that develop on the skin or in the mouth.


Over the past 10 years, several drugs have become available to fight both the HIV infection and its associated infections and cancers. These drugs are called highly active antiretroviral therapy (HAART) and have substantially reduced HIV-related complications and deaths. However, there is no cure for HIV/AIDS. Therapy is initiated and individualized under the supervision of an expert physician in the care of HIV-infected patients. A combination of at least three drugs is recommended to suppress the virus from replicating and to boost the immune system. The different classes of medications include:

  • Reverse transcriptase inhibitors: These drugs inhibit the ability of the virus to make copies of itself. Examples include:
    • Nucleoside or Nucleotide reverse transcriptase inhibitors (NRTIs).
    • Non-nucleoside reverse transcriptase inhibitors (NNRTIS) are commonly used in combination with NRTIs to help keep the virus from multiplying.
  • Protease inhibitors (PIs): These medications interrupt the virus’s replication at a later step in its life cycle, preventing the cells from producing new viruses.
  • Fusion and entry inhibitors are newer agents that keep HIV from entering human cells.
  • Integrase inhibitors stop HIV genes from becoming incorporated into the human cell's DNA. This is a newer class of drugs recently approved to help treat those who have developed resistance to the other medications


Antiretroviral drugs stop viral replication and delay the development of AIDS. However, they also have side effects that can be severe. They include:

  • decreased levels of red or white blood cells,
  • inflammation of the pancreas, 
  • liver toxicity,
  • rash,
  • gastrointestinal problems, 
  • elevated cholesterol level,
  • diabetes,
  • abnormal body-fat distribution, and 
  • painful nerve damage.


Pregnant women who are HIV-positive should seek care immediately because HAART therapy reduces the risk of transmitting the virus to the fetus. There are certain drugs, however, that are harmful to the baby. Therefore, seeing a physician to discuss anti-HIV medications is vital.

  • HIV patients should be under the care of a physician who is experienced in treating the infection. All people with HIV should be counseled about avoiding the spread of the disease. Infected individuals are also educated about the disease process, and attempts are made to improve the quality of their life.

Home Care and Other Remedies

Find a competent doctor who knows how to treat the infection and its ramifications.

  • Follow your doctor's instructions. Keep all of your appointments, and take your medications exactly as directed. If you get sick from your medication, call your doctor. Don't stop taking your medication or change the dosage on your own.
  • Get immunizations. These may prevent infections such as pneumonia and the flu. 
  • Don't smoke or use illicit drugs. These weaken your body even more.
  • Eat the healthiest diet you can. Give special emphasis to fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains and lean protein. Good nutrition is tremendously important. Healthy foods give you more energy and support your immune system. If you have diarrhea, weight loss or trouble eating you may consult with a registered dietitian. Also, because your nutritional needs are extremely high and you may not digest food well, talk to your doctor about vitamin and mineral supplements.
  • Avoid foods that increase the risk of infection. These include unpasteurized dairy products, raw eggs and raw seafood such as oysters, sushi or sashimi. Cook meat until it's well-done or until there's no trace of pink color.
  • Drink pure water. Boil tap water or use bottled or filtered water for drinking. If you buy a water filter, look for one that uses reverse osmosis as part of the purification process.
  • Get regular exercise. Exercise helps increase your strength and energy levels and can help battle the depression that's often a part of dealing with HIV/AIDS.
  • Get enough sleep.
  • Take care with companion animals. Some animals may carry parasites that can cause infections in people who are HIV-positive. But that doesn't mean you should give up your companion animal.
    • Have someone else clean your cat's litter box or pick up after your dog.
    • If you must do this by yourself, wear latex gloves and wash your hands immediately afterward.
    • Don't feed your pets with raw meat, and make sure they have all their shots. 
    • Always wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water after petting or playing with your animals.
    • Find ways to relax. Practice your favorite activities or find new ones.
    • Keep your hands clean.
    • Wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water after using the restroom, before eating or preparing food, and after spending time in public places.
    • You might find it helpful to carry an alcohol-based hand sanitizer with you for times when it's not convenient to use soap and water.


There is no effective vaccine against HIV. The only way to prevent infection by the virus is to avoid risky behaviors, such as sharing needles or having unprotected sex. In this context, unprotected sex means sex without barrier contraception, such as a condom. Because condoms break, even they are not perfect protection. Many people infected with HIV don't have any symptoms. There is no way to know with certainty whether a sexual partner is infected.

  • Abstinence.
  • Mutual monogamy
  • Condoms offer some protection if used properly and consistently. Occasionally, they may break or leak. Only condoms made of latex should be used. Only water-based lubricants should be used with latex condoms.
  • Do not share needles or inject illicit drugs.
  • If you work in a health-care field, follow national guidelines for protecting yourself against needle pricks and exposure to contaminated fluids.
  • If you have engaged in risky behaviors, get tested to see if you have HIV.
  • The risk of HIV transmission from a pregnant woman to her baby is significantly reduced if:
    • the mother takes medications during pregnancy, labor, and delivery; 
    • her baby takes medications for the first six weeks of life, even shorter courses of treatment are effective, though not as optimal;
    • it is crucial to get tested for HIV as early as possible in pregnancy;
    • in consultation with their physician, many women opt to avoid breastfeeding to minimize the risk of transmission after the baby is born.

How to stop the spread?

  • Abstinence or mutual monogamy.
  • Use barrier contraception during every sexual contact.
  • Do not share needles or razorblades, toothbrushes or any objects that may be contaminated with blood with other people.


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World health/sexuality

  • 83% of all abortions are obtained in developing countries and 17% occur in developed countries.

    © Copyright 1996-2008, The Alan Guttmacher Institute. (

  • (age) 52% of women obtaining abortions in the U.S. are younger than 25: Women aged 20-24 obtain 32% of all abortions; Teenagers obtain 20% and girls under 15 account for 1.2%.