HIV stands for human immunodeficiency virus. The virus attacks and gradually destroys the immune system, making it harder for the body to fight infections. With a weakened immune system, the body is more vulnerable to deadly infections and cancers.
Once a person is infected, HIV remains in the body for the rest of that person’s life. The blood, semen, vaginal fluids and breast milk of people with HIV have been scientifically shown to transmit HIV infection to others.
Some people with HIV infection — especially those who don’t receive treatment — will eventually develop AIDS. The good news: There are effective treatments that can protect the immune system and delay or prevent the progression to AIDS.
Risk factors for HIV
Those who have the highest risk of getting HIV include the following:
- Intravenous drug users who share needles
- Babies born to HIV-positive mothers who did not get HIV therapy during pregnancy
- People who have sex without using a barrier method of protection (e.g., dental dams or condoms), especially with many different partners (although you can get HIV from a single sexual encounter or partner)
- People who received blood transfusions or clotting products between 1977 and 1985
You cannot get HIV from the following:
- Casual physical contact (e.g., hugging, kissing on the cheek, shaking hands)
- Mosquito bites
- The sweat of an HIV-positive person
- Touching objects that have been touched by a person with HIV
- The saliva of an HIV-positive person
Symptoms may not show up for many years after a person becomes infected with HIV. That’s why it’s important to get tested if you know or think you have been exposed.
The following symptoms can be related to HIV infection:
- Frequent vaginal yeast infections
- Mouth sores, including yeast infection
- Rashes, including seborrheic dermatitis and psoriasis
- Persistent sore throat
- Swollen lymph glands
How can I find out if I have HIV infection?
If you have been exposed to HIV or think you may have been, talk to your primary care doctor right away so you can be tested.
Care for HIV/AIDS at Rush
Rush offers prevention, treatment, screening, counseling and other vital services for people with HIV and their families through the HIV Treatment Program. Physicians at Rush are also experienced with the use of PrEP, or pre-exposure prophylaxis, for people who are at high risk for contracting HIV.
There is no cure for HIV. But treatment can help prevent serious complications from HIV and delay or keep you from developing AIDS.
If you are HIV positive and are pregnant, it is important to receive treatment to reduce the chance that you’ll pass the infection to your unborn child.
Your treatment plan may include some of the following:
Therapy for HIV involves a combination of antiviral drugs (also referred to as combined antiretroviral therapy, or cART) that prevent the HIV virus from replicating in the body.
These medications offer the following benefits:
- If taken every day, they allow the immune system to recover by reducing the amount of virus in the body.
- Antiviral medications also help keep the immune system from being destroyed.
Treatment for resistant HIV
If your HIV becomes resistant to some medications, other types of drugs are available. Your care team will discuss the options with you.
Specialized care for neurological complications of HIV
Rush has a program devoted to caring for people with neurological complications of infectious diseases, including HIV/AIDS. Thirty to 50 percent of people with HIV/AIDS experience neurological complications. These include damage to the brain, spinal cord and nerves.
Neurological complications of HIV infection can present in various ways. The most common symptoms include the following:
- Forgetfulness or mental slowing
- Inability to concentrate or apathy
- Visual or auditory problems
- Convulsions, seizures
- Weakness or paralysis
- Poor coordination or instability while walking
- Numb or burning feet
- Headache or stiff neck
Doctors in the Neuroinfectious Diseases Program at Rush will work with you — and other specialists at Rush as needed — to address these complications.
Why choose Rush for HIV care
- Rush is one of the leading centers in the U.S. for research aimed at preventing, detecting and treating HIV infection and AIDS.
- Rush’s Neuroinfectious Diseases Program offers patients access to neurologists who are experts in the treatment of the neurological complications of HIV/AIDS.