Immune System

Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV)

What is Human Immunodeficiency Virus?

HIV (human immunodeficiency virus) is a virus that attacks the body’s immune system. If HIV is not treated, it can lead to AIDS (acquired immunodeficiency syndrome). Learning the basics about HIV can keep you healthy and prevent HIV transmission. There is currently no effective cure. Once people get HIV, they have it for life, but with proper medical care, HIV can be controlled. People with HIV who get effective HIV treatment can live long, healthy lives and protect their partners.

The only way to know for sure whether you have HIV is to get tested. Knowing your HIV status helps you make healthy decisions to prevent getting or transmitting HIV.

HIV is caused by a virus. It can spread through sexual contact, illicit injection drug use or sharing needles, contact with infected blood, or from mother to child during pregnancy, childbirth, or breastfeeding.

HIV destroys CD4 T cells—white blood cells that play a large role in helping your body fight disease. The fewer CD4 T cells you have, the weaker your immune system becomes.

HIV infections can be present with few or no symptoms, and this can be the case for several years before it turns into AIDS. AIDS occurs when the CT4 cell count in your body is below 200. Typically, when untreated, HIV turns to AIDS in about 8 to 10 years.

  • Get tested for HIV
  • Get tested and treated for any STDs
  • Never inject drugs
  • If you are at risk of getting HIV, talk to your doctor about pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP)

HIV is a condition that must be diagnosed by a doctor, so consider making an appointment if you have some/all of these warning signs:

  • Sweats
  • Chills
  • Recurring fever
  • Chronic diarrhea
  • Swollen lymph glands
  • Persistent white spots or unusual lesions on your tongue or in your mouth
  • Persistent, unexplained fatigue
  • Weakness
  • Weight loss
  • Skin rashes or bumps

It is important to note that the CDC recommends getting tested for HIV at least once a year.

Eat healthy foods

Make sure you get enough nourishment. Fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, and lean protein help keep you strong, give you more energy and support your immune system.

Avoid raw meat, eggs and more

Foodborne illnesses can be especially severe in people who are infected with HIV. Cook meat until it’s well done. Avoid unpasteurized dairy products, raw eggs and raw seafood such as oysters, sushi or sashimi.

Get the right vaccinations

These may prevent typical infections such as pneumonia and influenza. Your health care provider may also recommend other vaccinations, including for HPV, hepatitis A and hepatitis B. Inactivated vaccines are generally safe, but most vaccines with live viruses are not, due to your weakened immune system.

Take care with companion animals

Some animals may carry parasites that can cause infections in people who are HIV-positive. Cat feces can cause toxoplasmosis, reptiles can carry salmonella, and birds can carry cryptococcus or histoplasmosis. Wash hands thoroughly after handling pets or emptying the litter box.

If you have HIV, we recommend you seek this treatment every year. All of these recommended treatments are covered by AHDI in our Standards of Care.

  • Two visits to your doctor per year
  • One T-Cell/CD-4 Counts per year
  • Two HIV Quantifications
  • Two CBCs (complete blood counts) per year
  • For adult women with the condition, one Pap Smear test for cervical cancer per year

For more information, visit