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HIV & AIDS: Causes, Symptoms, Prevention and Treatment

Human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) is the pathogen responsible for causing acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS). HIV progressively weakens your immune system by targeting and destroying T-cells, eventually compromising your body’s ability to combat even minor infections. It is possible to be HIV positive without displaying any symptoms. Early testing and treatment initiation are crucial for a prolonged, healthy life.

What is HIV?

HIV stands for human immunodeficiency virus. This virus attacks and annihilates cells of your immune system, hindering your ability to fight other diseases. Severe weakening of the immune system due to HIV can lead to acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS).

HIV is categorized as a “retrovirus” because it integrates its genetic material into your DNA in reverse order.

What is AIDS?

AIDS represents the most advanced and critical phase of HIV infection. If you have AIDS, you will have significantly low levels of certain white blood cells and highly compromised immune systems. You will be susceptible to additional diseases that indicate the transition to AIDS.

Without medical intervention, HIV typically advances to AIDS within approximately 10 years.

What’s the difference between HIV and AIDS?

HIV is a virus that impairs your immune system, whereas AIDS is a condition resulting from an HIV infection when your immune system is extremely weakened. 

It is not possible to contract AIDS without first being infected with HIV. However, treatment can decelerate the virus’s impact, preventing everyone with HIV from developing AIDS. Without treatment, almost all HIV-infected individuals will progress to AIDS.

Impact of HIV on the Body

HIV targets white blood cells in your immune system known as CD4 cells or helper T cells, reducing their count and leaving your immune system vulnerable to infections that would typically not cause illness. 

Initially, HIV can cause flu-like symptoms, then remain dormant without noticeable signs while progressively damaging T-cells. When T-cell levels drop significantly or when certain illnesses occur that healthy immune systems usually fend off, HIV has progressed to AIDS.

AIDS can lead to rapid weight loss, extreme fatigue, ulcers in mouth and genitals, fevers, night sweats, and skin discolorations. Other diseases and cancers often affect individuals with AIDS, adding to the symptoms.

What’s a retrovirus?

A retrovirus operates in the opposite manner of human cells. In human cells, deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) provides the instructions that are sent as messages (Ribonucleic Acid or RNA) to create the building blocks of your body (proteins).

Retroviruses, on the other hand, have their instructions encoded in RNA. When a retrovirus enters your cells, it converts its RNA to mimic your cells’ DNA instructions. It then cuts into your cells’ DNA and integrates its own instructions. As a result, your cells follow these viral instructions as if they were their own.

HIV is an example of a retrovirus. Like all viruses, HIV invades your cells and hijacks their machinery to produce more copies of itself. HIV goes a step further by embedding its instructions directly into your DNA.

Who can Get HIV?

It is a misconception that HIV targets only specific individuals. In reality, anyone can contract HIV if they are exposed to the virus. The most common ways HIV is transmitted are through unprotected sex and sharing needles for drug use.

Certain populations are statistically more impacted by HIV. These groups include:

  • Individuals who identify as gay, bisexual, and men who have sex with men (MSM).
  • People of certain races, particularly those who are Black or Hispanic.
  • Those who engage in sex work in exchange for money or other goods.

Although these are not the only groups affected by HIV, they face distinct challenges in accessing preventive care, getting tested, and obtaining comprehensive treatment. Homophobia, racism, poverty, and social stigmas surrounding HIV contribute to these disparities, hindering access to high-quality healthcare.

Key Facts About HIV/AIDS

  • HIV continues to be a significant global public health issue, having caused 40.4 million (ranging from 32.9 to 51.3 million) deaths so far, with ongoing transmission in all countries. Some nations have even reported increasing trends in new infections after previously experiencing declines.
  • By the end of 2022, an estimated 39.0 million (33.1 to 45.7 million) people were living with HIV, with two-thirds (25.6 million) in the WHO African Region. 
  • In 2022, 630,000 (480,000 to 880,000) people died from HIV-related causes, and 1.3 million (1.0 to 1.7 million) people contracted the virus.
  • While there is no cure for HIV, effective prevention, diagnosis, treatment, and care – including management of opportunistic infections – have made HIV a manageable chronic condition, allowing people living with HIV to lead long, healthy lives.
  • Organizations like WHO, the Global Fund, and UNAIDS have global HIV strategies aligned with the Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) target 3.3 to end the HIV epidemic by 2030. 
  • By 2025, the aim is for 95% of all people living with HIV (PLHIV) to know their diagnosis, 95% of those diagnosed to be on lifesaving antiretroviral treatment (ART), and 95% of those on treatment to achieve a suppressed viral load to benefit their health and reduce further HIV transmission. In 2022, the percentages were 86% (73 to >98%) for diagnosis, 89% (75 to >98%) for ART coverage, and 93% (79 to >98%) for viral load suppression.
  • Overall, 86% (73 to >98%) of all people living with HIV knew their status, 76% (65 to 89%) were receiving antiretroviral therapy, and 71% (60 to 83%) had suppressed viral loads.

Symptoms of HIV

Like several other STIs/STDs, you may have HIV too without experiencing any symptoms, which makes it essential to get tested even if you do not feel ill.

Occasionally, when you first contract HIV, you may experience flu-like symptoms. These can include:

  • Fever
  • Rash
  • Chills
  • Night sweats
  • Fatigue
  • Swollen lymph nodes
  • Sore throat
  • Mouth sores
  • Muscle aches

What are the stages of HIV?

HIV infection progresses through three stages:

Stage 1: Acute HIV

After being infected with HIV, some individuals experience flu-like symptoms within a month or two. These symptoms usually subside within a week to a month.

Stage 2: Chronic Stage/Clinical Latency

Following the acute stage, HIV can persist in your body for many years without causing noticeable symptoms. It is crucial to understand that even if you feel well, you can still transmit HIV to others.

Stage 3: AIDS

AIDS represents the most severe stage of HIV infection. At this point, HIV severely compromises your immune system, making you highly susceptible to opportunistic infections.

Opportunistic infections are those that a person with a healthy immune system would typically fend off. Once HIV progresses to AIDS, these infections exploit your weakened immune system.

You become more susceptible to developing certain types of cancer when your HIV infection has progressed to AIDS. These cancers and opportunistic infections are collectively known as AIDS-defining illnesses.

To receive an AIDS diagnosis, you must be HIV positive and meet at least one of the following criteria:

  • Have fewer than 200 CD4 cells per cubic millimeter of blood (200 cells/mm3)
  • Have an AIDS-defining illness

What are AIDS-defining illnesses?

AIDS-defining illnesses encompass opportunistic infections, specific cancers (often caused by viruses), and certain neurological conditions. These include:

  • Burkitt lymphoma
  • Candidiasis affecting the bronchi, esophagus, trachea, or lungs
  • Chronic intestinal isosporiasis (cystoisosporiasis) lasting more than a month
  • Disseminated/extrapulmonary coccidioidomycosis
  • Chronic intestinal cryptosporidiosis lasting more than a month
  • Cytomegalovirus disease (excluding liver, spleen, or lymph nodes) onset at an age older than one month
  • Cytomegalovirus retinitis (resulting in vision loss)
  • HIV-associated encephalopathy
  • Extrapulmonary cryptococcosis
  • Herpes simplex ulcers lasting more than a month
  • Herpes simplex bronchitis, pneumonitis, or esophagitis onset at an age older than one month
  • Disseminated/extrapulmonary histoplasmosis
  • HIV wasting syndrome
  • Invasive cervical cancer
  • Immunoblastic lymphoma
  • Kaposi sarcoma
  • Multiple or recurrent bacterial infections
  • Disseminated/extrapulmonary Mycobacterium avium complex (MAC)
  • Disseminated/extrapulmonary Mycobacterium kansasii
  • Mycobacterium tuberculosis at any site
  • Disseminated/extrapulmonary Mycobacterium of other species or unidentified species
  • Pneumocystis jirovecii pneumonia
  • Primary brain lymphoma
  • Progressive multifocal leukoencephalopathy
  • Recurrent pneumonia
  • Recurrent Salmonella septicemia (nontyphoid)
  • Toxoplasmosis of the brain onset at an age older than one month

What are the symptoms of AIDS?

Symptoms of AIDS may result from HIV infection, but a significant number stem from diseases that exploit your compromised immune system.

How is HIV/AIDS caused?

HIV is a viral infection that can be transmitted through various means, including sexual contact, the injection of illicit drugs with shared needles, and exposure to infected blood. Additionally, you can also transmit HIV to a child during pregnancy, childbirth, or breastfeeding.

The virus targets and damages CD4 T cells, which are crucial for the body’s immune response against diseases. As the number of CD4 T cells decreases, the strength of your immune system diminishes.

How does HIV spread?

You can contract HIV when infected blood, semen, or vaginal fluids enter your body. This can occur through:

  • Sexual intercourse: Infection can happen during vaginal or anal intercourse with an infected partner. While the risk is lower with oral sex, it still exists, particularly if there are mouth sores or small tears in the rectum or vagina.
  • Sharing needles for injecting drugs: Sharing needles and syringes with someone who is infected significantly increases the risk of contracting HIV and other infectious diseases such as hepatitis.
  • Blood transfusion: In rare cases, the virus can be transmitted through blood transfusions. However, hospitals and blood banks typically screen the blood supply for HIV, reducing this risk. In resource-poor countries where such precautions may not be in place, the risk might be higher.
  • Pregnancy, childbirth, or breastfeeding: If you are suffering from HIV infection and get pregnant, you can transmit the virus to your baby. However, receiving treatment for HIV during pregnancy substantially reduces the risk of transmission to the baby.

Can you get HIV from kissing?

HIV is not transmitted through saliva, so kissing is not a typical means of infection. However, in specific circumstances where there is an exchange of other bodily fluids, such as when both individuals have open sores in their mouths or bleeding gums, there is a slight risk of HIV transmission through deep, open-mouthed kissing.

You cannot contract HIV from:

  • Touching or hugging someone with HIV/AIDS
  • Using public bathrooms or swimming pools
  • Sharing cups, utensils, or telephones with someone who has HIV/AIDS
  • Insect bites
  • Donating blood

How can I know if I have HIV?

You cannot determine if someone has HIV simply by looking at them, and many individuals infected with HIV may not display any symptoms. The only definitive method to ascertain your HIV status is by undergoing an HIV test.

Given that nearly 1 out of 7 individuals with HIV are unaware of their status, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC) advises screening individuals between the ages of 13 to 64 at least once as a part of routine healthcare. This test is voluntary and confidential.

HIV Diagnosis

HIV can be diagnosed through either a blood test or a saliva (spit) test. You can undergo testing at home, in a healthcare provider’s office, or at a testing location within your community.

If your test returns a negative result, no further testing is necessary if:

  • You have not experienced a potential exposure in the three months preceding the test, regardless of the test type.
  • You have not had a potential exposure within the window period for a blood draw test. (Consult your healthcare provider if you are uncertain about the window period for a specific test.)

If you have had a potential exposure within three months of testing, you are advised to consider retesting to confirm the negative result.

In the event of a positive test result, the laboratory may conduct follow-up tests to confirm the initial finding.

Tests to Diagnose HIV

There are three types of HIV tests: antigen/antibody tests, antibody tests, and nucleic acid tests (NATs):

Antigen/antibody tests

Antigen tests detect p24 markers on the HIV surface, while antibody tests identify the chemicals your body produces in response. An antigen/antibody test searches for both p24 and its antibodies.

For this test, a healthcare provider will take a small blood sample from your arm using a needle. The sample is then sent to a lab to check for p24 and antibodies. Typically, this test can detect HIV 18 to 45 days after exposure.

A rapid antigen/antibody test can also be done using a finger prick to draw blood. You need to wait at least 18 days after exposure for this test to be effective, and it may require up to 90 days for accurate results. “Rapid” refers to how quickly you receive results, not how soon the virus can be detected after exposure.

Antibody tests

These tests look for HIV antibodies in your blood or saliva. This can be done by drawing blood from your arm, using a finger prick, or swabbing your gums to collect saliva.

An antibody test can identify HIV 23 to 90 days after exposure. Blood tests detect HIV sooner than those using saliva or a finger prick.

Nucleic acid tests (NATs)

NATs search for the HIV virus in your blood. A healthcare provider will take a small blood sample from your arm with a needle. The sample is then sent to a lab for HIV testing.

NATs can usually detect HIV 10 to 33 days after exposure. This test is often reserved for high-risk exposures.

If your test is positive, your healthcare provider may suggest further tests to assess your health. These might include a complete blood count (CBC) and:

  • Viral hepatitis screening
  • Chest X-ray
  • Pap smear
  • CD4 count
  • Tuberculosis screening

Are there at-home tests for HIV?

Yes, you can use HIV test kits at home. Some of these kits are rapid tests where you swab your gums with a stick that has a soft, flexible tip. You then place the stick into a tube with a special solution, and your results will appear in 15 to 20 minutes.

Other kits require you to prick your finger with a small needle to collect a drop of blood. You place the blood on a card and mail the kit to a lab, which then sends you your results.

If your at-home test result is positive, it is important to reach out to your healthcare provider for further testing to confirm the result.

Risk factors

HIV/AIDS can affect individuals of any age, race, gender, or sexual orientation. However, you are at a higher risk of HIV/AIDS if you:

  • Engage in unprotected sex: Always use a new latex or polyurethane condom during sex. Anal sex carries a higher risk than vaginal sex, and having multiple sexual partners increases your risk of contracting HIV.
  • Have an STI: Many sexually transmitted infections cause open sores on the genitals, providing an entry point for HIV.
  • Use injectable illicit drugs: Sharing needles and syringes exposes you to infected blood, increasing the likelihood of HIV transmission.


HIV weakens your immune system, making you much more susceptible to various infections and specific types of cancers.

Infections common to HIV/AIDS

  • Pneumocystis pneumonia (PCP): It is a severe fungal infection. Although it is less common in the U.S. due to effective HIV/AIDS treatments, PCP remains the most prevalent cause of pneumonia in individuals with HIV.
  • Candidiasis: Candidiasis, or thrush, is a frequent HIV-related infection that results in a thick, white coating on the mouth, tongue, esophagus, or vagina.
  • Tuberculosis (TB): Tuberculosis is a common opportunistic infection associated with HIV. Globally, TB is a leading cause of death among those with AIDS, though it is less prevalent in the U.S. due to widespread use of HIV medications.
  • Cytomegalovirus: Cytomegalovirus, a common herpes virus, is transmitted through body fluids like saliva, blood, urine, semen, and breast milk. A healthy immune system keeps the virus inactive, but if your immune system weakens, it can reactivate and cause damage to the eyes, digestive system, lungs, or other organs.
  • Cryptococcal meningitis: Cryptococcal meningitis is an infection of the central nervous system associated with HIV. It involves inflammation of the membranes and fluid around the brain and spinal cord, caused by a fungus found in soil.
  • Toxoplasmosis: Toxoplasmosis is an infection caused by the parasite Toxoplasma gondii, which is primarily spread by cats. Infected cats shed the parasite in their feces, which can then infect other animals and humans. Toxoplasmosis can lead to heart disease, seizures if it spreads to the brain, and can be fatal.

Cancers common to HIV/AIDS

  • Lymphoma: Lymphoma is a type of cancer that begins in the white blood cells. The earliest and most common sign is painless swelling of the lymph nodes, typically in the neck, armpit, or groin.
  • Kaposi sarcoma: Kaposi sarcoma is a tumor that forms in the walls of blood vessels. It usually manifests as pink, red, or purple lesions on the skin and in the mouth for individuals with white skin. For those with Black or brown skin, the lesions might appear dark brown or black. Kaposi sarcoma can also affect internal organs, such as the lungs and parts of the digestive system.
  • Human papillomavirus (HPV)-related cancers: Human papillomavirus (HPV)-related cancers are caused by HPV infection and include cancers of the anus, mouth, and cervix.

Other complications

  • Wasting syndrome: When HIV/AIDS is left untreated, it can lead to significant weight loss. This weight loss is often accompanied by diarrhea, weakness, and fever.
  • Brain and nervous system complications: HIV can result in neurological issues such as confusion, memory loss, depression, anxiety, and difficulty walking. These neurological conditions associated with HIV can range from mild behavioral changes and decreased mental functioning to severe dementia, leading to weakness and inability to perform daily activities.
  • Kidney disease: HIV-associated nephropathy (HIVAN) involves inflammation of the tiny filters in your kidneys, which are responsible for removing excess fluid and waste from the blood, passing them into the urine. This kidney disease predominantly affects Black and Hispanic individuals.
  • Liver disease: Liver complications are common, particularly in those who are also infected with hepatitis B or hepatitis C.


There is currently no vaccine to prevent HIV infection and no cure for HIV/AIDS. However, you can take steps to protect yourself and others from the virus.

To reduce the risk of spreading HIV:

Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis (PrEP)

Consider pre-exposure prophylaxis, known as PrEP, to protect against HIV. PrEP comes in two forms: oral medications and an injectable shot. The oral medications include emtricitabine-tenofovir disoproxil fumarate (Truvada) and emtricitabine-tenofovir alafenamide fumarate (Descovy). PrEP is highly effective at reducing the risk of sexually transmitted HIV infection in individuals at very high risk.

According to the CDC, PrEP can lower the risk of getting HIV from sexual activity by about 99% and from injecting drugs by at least 74%. However, Descovy has not been studied for effectiveness in individuals who engage in receptive vaginal sex.

Cabotegravir (Apretude) is the first injectable PrEP approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (USFDA) to reduce the risk of sexually transmitted HIV infection in high-risk individuals. This injection is administered by a healthcare professional. Initially, you receive two shots one month apart, followed by one shot every two months. This injection is an alternative to the daily PrEP pill.

Your healthcare provider will prescribe PrEP only if you do not already have an HIV infection. You must take an HIV test before starting PrEP and continue testing every three months if you are taking pills or before each injection if you opt for the shot.

It is essential to take the pills daily or adhere strictly to the injection schedule. You should still practice safe sex to protect against other sexually transmitted infections (STIs). If you have hepatitis B, consult an infectious disease or liver specialist before starting PrEP therapy.

Treatment as Prevention (TasP)

Consider using treatment as prevention, or TasP. If you are living with HIV, taking your prescribed HIV medications can prevent your partner from contracting the virus. When blood tests show that the virus is undetectable, it means your viral load is so low that you cannot transmit HIV through sexual activity.

To effectively use TasP, it is crucial to take your medications exactly as prescribed and attend regular medical checkups.

Post-Exposure Prophylaxis (PEP)

Consider post-exposure prophylaxis, or PEP, if you believe you have been exposed to HIV. Whether the exposure happened through sex, needle use, or at work, contact your healthcare provider or visit an emergency room immediately. Taking PEP within the first 72 hours significantly reduces your risk of contracting HIV. The medication must be taken for a full 28 days.


Always use a new condom for each instance of anal or vaginal sex. You can choose between male and female condoms. If you use a lubricant, ensure it is water-based, as oil-based lubricants can damage condoms and cause them to break.

For oral sex, use a cut-open condom or a dental dam made of medical-grade latex without any lubricant.

Inform Sxual Partners

Inform your sexual partners that you have HIV. It is crucial to notify all current and past sexual partners about your HIV status so they can get tested.

Use Clean Needles

Always use clean needles. If you inject drugs, ensure the needles are sterile and never share them. Take advantage of needle-exchange programs in your area and seek help for substance abuse.


If you are pregnant, seek medical care immediately. HIV can be transmitted to your baby, but treatment during pregnancy can significantly reduce this risk.


Consider male circumcision. Research indicates that circumcision, which involves removing the foreskin from the penis, can lower the risk of HIV infection.


There is currently no cure for HIV/AIDS. Once you are infected, your body cannot eliminate the virus. However, there are medications available that can effectively manage HIV and prevent associated complications.

It is crucial for everyone diagnosed with HIV to initiate antiretroviral therapy (ART). This holds true regardless of the stage of the disease or the presence of complications.

ART typically consists of a combination of two or more medications from various drug classes. This strategy offers the greatest likelihood of reducing the HIV viral load in the bloodstream. There are numerous ART options that combine multiple HIV medicines into a single pill, to be taken once daily.

Each drug class works to inhibit the virus through different mechanisms. Treatment involves combining medications from diverse classes in order to:

  • Address medication resistance, known as viral genotype.
  • Prevent the emergence of new drug-resistant HIV strains.
  • Achieve maximum suppression of the virus in the bloodstream.

Typically, two medications from one class are combined with a third medication from another class.

The different classes of anti-HIV medications include:

  1. Non-nucleoside reverse transcriptase inhibitors (NNRTIs): These drugs deactivate a protein essential for HIV to replicate itself.
    • Examples include efavirenz, rilpivirine (Edurant), and doravirine (Pifeltro).
  2. Nucleoside or nucleotide reverse transcriptase inhibitors (NRTIs): These are defective versions of the building blocks necessary for HIV to copy itself.
    • Examples include abacavir (Ziagen), tenofovir disoproxil fumarate (Viread), emtricitabine (Emtriva), lamivudine (Epivir), and zidovudine (Retrovir). However, Retrovir is no longer recommended for routine use in the U.S. due to high rates of toxic effects.
    • Combinations of medications are also available, such as: Emtricitabine-tenofovir disoproxil fumarate (Truvada) and Emtricitabine-tenofovir alafenamide fumarate (Descovy).
  3. Protease inhibitors (PIs): These drugs render HIV protease inactive, which is another protein necessary for HIV to replicate.
    • Examples include atazanavir (Reyataz), darunavir (Prezista), and lopinavir-ritonavir (Kaletra).
  4. Integrase inhibitors: These medications halt the activity of a protein called integrase, which HIV utilizes to insert its genetic material into CD4 T cells.
    • Examples include bictegravir sodium-emtricitabine-tenofovir alafenamide fumarate (Biktarvy), raltegravir (Isentress), dolutegravir (Tivicay), and cabotegravir (Vocabria).
  5. Entry or fusion inhibitors: These drugs obstruct HIV’s entry into CD4 T cells.
    • Examples include enfuvirtide (Fuzeon) and maraviroc (Selzentry). Newer medications in this category include ibalizumab-uiyk (Trogarzo) and fostemsavir (Rukobia).

These are the most commonly used different groups of medications used by healthcare practitioners to treat HIV patients. You, however, should never self-medicate as it may lead to severe complications, because every human body is different and requires a different approach to get the best results. Hence, you are strictly advised to seek medical help before starting any medication.

Starting and staying on treatment

Everyone living with HIV, regardless of their CD4 T cell count or symptoms, should be offered antiviral medication.

Maintaining adherence to ART, which ensures that your HIV viral load in the blood remains undetectable, is the most effective method for preserving your health.

For ART to be effective, it is crucial to take the medications exactly as prescribed. Avoid missing or skipping doses. Adhering to ART with an undetectable viral load helps in:

  • Sustaining a robust immune system
  • Reducing the risk of infections
  • Decreasing the likelihood of developing drug-resistant strains of HIV
  • Reducing the risk of transmitting HIV to others

Adhering to HIV therapy can present challenges. Discuss any potential side effects, difficulties with medication adherence, as well as any mental health or substance use issues that may affect your ability to remain on ART with your healthcare provider.

Regularly scheduled follow-up appointments with your healthcare provider are essential to monitor your health and response to treatment. If you encounter any issues with HIV therapy, inform your healthcare provider promptly so that you can work together to address these concerns.

HIV Treatment side effects

Possible side effects of treatment may include:

  • Nausea, vomiting, or diarrhea
  • Heart disease
  • Kidney and liver damage
  • Bone weakening or loss
  • Abnormal cholesterol levels
  • Elevated blood sugar
  • Issues with thinking, mood, and sleep

Treatment for age-related diseases

Managing age-related health issues can be more challenging if you have HIV. Medications commonly used for heart, bone, or metabolic conditions may interact poorly with anti-HIV treatments. Be sure to discuss all your health conditions and medications with your healthcare provider.

If another healthcare professional prescribes medication for a different condition, inform them about your HIV therapy. This way, they can ensure there are no adverse interactions between your medications.

HIV Treatment response

Your healthcare provider will monitor your viral load and CD4 T cell counts to assess your response to HIV treatment. The initial check occurs at 4 to 6 weeks, followed by visits every 3 to 6 months.

Effective treatment should reduce your viral load to undetectable levels in the blood. However, this does not mean that HIV has been eradicated; the virus remains in your body even when it is not detectable in the blood.

Lifestyle and home remedies for HIV Treatment

In addition to receiving medical treatment, actively participating in your own care is crucial. Here are some tips to help you stay healthy longer:

  • Eat nutritious foods: Consuming fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, and lean proteins can help maintain your strength, boost your energy, and support your immune system. Ensure you eat enough calories to keep your weight stable.
  • Avoid certain raw foods: Foodborne illnesses can be particularly severe for those with HIV. Ensure meat is cooked thoroughly, avoid unpasteurized dairy products, and stay away from raw eggs and seafood like oysters, sushi, or sashimi. Only drink water if you are sure it’s safe.
  • Get appropriate vaccinations: Vaccines can protect you from common infections such as pneumonia, influenza, COVID-19, and Monkeypox. Your healthcare provider may also recommend vaccines for HPV, hepatitis A, and hepatitis B. Vaccines without live viruses are generally safe, but most live-virus vaccines are not recommended due to your weakened immune system.
  • Handle pets with care: Some pets can carry parasites that cause infections in individuals with HIV. Cat feces can transmit toxoplasmosis, reptiles can carry salmonella, and birds can carry cryptococcus or histoplasmosis. Always wash your hands thoroughly after handling pets or cleaning litter boxes.

Alternative medicine for HIV Treatment

People with HIV may consider dietary supplements that claim to enhance the immune system or alleviate side effects from anti-HIV medications. However, there is no scientific evidence supporting these claims, and many supplements can interfere with your prescribed medications.

Always consult your healthcare provider before taking any supplements or alternative therapies to ensure they won’t impact the effectiveness of your medications.

Mind-body practices for HIV Treatment

Practices such as yoga, meditation, and massage have been shown to reduce stress, promote relaxation, and improve quality of life. While further study is needed, these practices may be beneficial for individuals living with HIV/AIDS.

Coping and support

Receiving a diagnosis of any life-threatening illness can be distressing. The emotional, social, and financial impacts of HIV/AIDS can make coping with this illness extremely challenging for both you and those close to you.

There, however, are numerous services and resources available for individuals with HIV. Most HIV/AIDS treatment clinics have counselors, or nurses who can offer assistance or connect you with appropriate support networks.

They may be able to:

  • Organize transportation to and from medical appointments.
  • Assist with housing and childcare needs.
  • Provide support with employment and legal matters.
  • Offer assistance during financial crises.

Having a support system is crucial. Many individuals with HIV/AIDS find solace in speaking with someone who understands their condition.

Living With HIV

Living with HIV is possible but only with utmost care and precautions. You have to undergo regular testing, follow the guidelines of your doctor, take medications regularly and on time, and make changes to your lifestyle to lead a healthy life.

How do I take care of myself with HIV?

The optimal way to care for yourself while living with HIV is to adhere to your treatment plan.

  • Ensure that you take your medications as prescribed and at the scheduled times.
  • Attend all appointments so your healthcare team can assess your well-being and determine if any adjustments to your treatment are necessary.
  • Follow your healthcare provider’s guidance on how to prevent additional illnesses.

If I have HIV, how can I keep from spreading it to others?

To prevent the spread of HIV to others, utilize many of the same methods you use to protect yourself:

  • Inform sexual partners and anyone you inject drugs with about your HIV status.
  • Adhere to your treatment plan and ensure you do not miss any medications. Having an undetectable viral load significantly reduces the risk of transmitting HIV through sex.
  • Discuss with your sexual partner the option of taking PrEP.
  • Always use condoms for vaginal, anal, and oral sex — even if you have an undetectable viral load.
  • Avoid sharing needles or any other equipment for drug injection.
  • Limit the number of sexual partners you engage with.
  • If you are pregnant and have HIV, following your treatment plan, including ART medications, can minimize the risk of transmitting the virus to your child.

Can I get pregnant if I have HIV?

There is a misconception that HIV can diminish your chances of conceiving, but this is not accurate. If you have HIV and desire to become pregnant, it is essential to consult your healthcare provider. Together, you can devise a plan before attempting to conceive to ensure the health of you, your partner, and any future children.

HIV can be transmitted to your partner through unprotected sex and to your baby during pregnancy, delivery, and breastfeeding. Taking ART medications can significantly reduce the risk of transmitting HIV to your baby, particularly if you maintain an undetectable viral load. Your provider may advise against breastfeeding and recommend the use of formula instead.

When should I see my healthcare provider?

If you suspect that you have been exposed to HIV, contact your healthcare provider promptly. Starting treatment as soon as possible is crucial if you are diagnosed with HIV.

If you are already aware of your HIV-positive status, adhere to your healthcare provider’s guidance regarding when to contact them. It is vital to address any form of infection, so reach out if you experience new symptoms such as fever, night sweats, diarrhea, or any other concerning issues.

Preparing for your appointment

There are multiple steps you can take while preparing for your appointment. You can talk to your close family and friends to get an idea about the most reliable and skilled infectious disease specialists in your area. Plus, you can also do online research to find out the best doctors in your vicinity by going through their reviews and patient testimonials.

What you can do

Before your appointment, consider the following questions and bring your answers with you:

  • How do you believe you were exposed to HIV?
  • What symptoms are you experiencing?
  • Do you have any risk factors, such as engaging in unprotected sex or using illicit drugs?
  • What medications or supplements are you currently taking?

What to expect from your doctor

During your appointment, your healthcare provider will inquire about your health and lifestyle, and conduct a physical examination, checking for:

  • Swollen lymph nodes
  • Sores on your skin or in your mouth
  • Issues with your nervous system
  • Abnormal sounds in your lungs
  • Enlarged organs in your abdomen

What you can do in the meantime

If you suspect you might have an HIV infection, take steps to protect yourself and others before your appointment. Refrain from having unprotected sex. If you inject illicit drugs, always use a new, clean needle and avoid sharing needles with others.


Understanding HIV infection is crucial for prevention and effective management. Recognizing its causes, symptoms, and diagnostic methods empowers individuals to seek timely medical attention. Prevention strategies such as safe sex practices and avoiding needle sharing are essential in curbing transmission. 

Early diagnosis through regular testing and prompt treatment with antiretroviral therapy can significantly improve outcomes and enhance the quality of life for those living with HIV.


To be effective, PEP must be initiated within 72 hours after potential exposure to HIV. It’s advised only after high-risk exposure, especially if the sexual partner is known to be HIV positive. You will need to take HIV medication daily for a month as part of the PEP regimen.

It’s never too late to begin HIV treatment, whether you start immediately, a month later, a year later, or even three years after diagnosis.

With proper medical care and treatment, individuals with HIV can achieve a normal life expectancy of around 75 years. Since the introduction of highly active antiretroviral therapy (HAART) in 1995-96, those living with HIV can expect to live a typical lifespan, provided they adhere to their prescribed HIV medications.

Although there is no cure for HIV, most people in the U.S. who are infected do not progress to AIDS thanks to antiretroviral therapy (ART) medications that can halt the disease’s progression. When HIV is detected early, the infection can be effectively managed.

Symptoms of HIV in males can include penile ulcers, erectile dysfunction, proctitis, hypogonadism, and prostatitis. Additionally, you might experience fever, sore throat, rashes, and other general symptoms. HIV targets white blood cells called CD4 cells, which are crucial for your immune system.

  • Marcus JL, Leyden WA, Alexeeff SE, et al. Comparison of Overall and Comorbidity-Free Life Expectancy Between Insured Adults With and Without HIV Infection, 2000-2016. (
  • Merck Manuals. Human Immunodeficiency Syndrome (HIV) Infection (
  • Sastre F, Sheehan DM, Gonzalez A. Dating, marriage, and parenthood for HIV-positive heterosexual Puerto Rican men: normalizing perspectives on everyday life with HIV. (
  • U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. (
  • U.S. Department of Health and Human Services: Office of Women’s Health. Pregnancy and HIV (
  • About HIV and AIDS. (
  • Sax PE. Acute and early HIV infection: Clinical manifestations and diagnosis. (
  • Ferri FF. Human immunodeficiency virus. In: Ferri’s Clinical Advisor 2024. Elsevier; 2024. (
  • Guidelines for the prevention and treatment of opportunistic infections in adults and adolescents with HIV. (
  • Elsevier Point of Care. Clinical Overview: HIV infection and AIDS in adults. (
  • Male circumcision for HIV prevention fact sheet. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (

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