HIV stands for human immunodeficiency virus. HIV attacks the body’s immune system, specifically CD4 cells commonly known as T cells. T cells are essential for helping the immune system fight off infections. If HIV is left untreated, the body’s number of T cells can be reduced further and a person can progress to AIDS. With AIDS, the immune system becomes highly immunocompromised and susceptible to opportunistic infections that the body is no longer able fight. There is no cure for HIV, but treatment is available for controlling HIV.
HIV is spread through direct contact with blood and body fluids from an HIV infected person. Body fluids include: blood, semen, vaginal fluids, rectal fluids, and breastmilk. According to the CDC, there are more than 1.2 million Americans living with HIV, and 1 in 8 do not know it. The best way to know if you have HIV is to get tested. You can ask your healthcare provider for an HIV test or go to a clinic, hospital, substance abuse program, or community health center that offers testing.
HIV today is seen and managed as a chronic disease much like diabetes or high blood pressure. Once diagnosed with HIV by a medical professional, you will most likely be prescribed antiretroviral therapy (ART). These medications work by suppressing the HIV virus so your immune system can function. The sooner you take action to get tested and protect your health, the better.