HIV / AIDS
- What is it? HIV is the acronym for the Human Immunodeficiency Virus, a virus that attacks the body's immune system, leading to full-blown AIDS (Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome). AIDS is devastating because it leaves the body susceptible to life-threatening infections and certain kinds of cancers.
- How is it contracted? Through oral, anal, or vaginal sex, and from an HIV-positive mother to her baby. To prevent it, use a condom every time you have sex; find out the sexual history of any new partners, including their HIV status; and don't share needles if you do intravenous drugs. If you're pregnant and are HIV-positive, talk to your doctor about how to prevent passing the virus along to your child.
- Incubation Period: Some people develop symptoms shortly after being infected, but for many it takes more than ten years for symptoms to appear.
- Symptoms: Most symptoms of AIDS are not caused directly by HIV, but by an infection or other condition brought on by a weakened immune system. These include severe weight loss, fever, headache, night sweats, fatigue, severe diarrhea, shortness of breath, and difficulty swallowing. The symptoms tend to last for weeks or months at a time and do not go away without treatment. In some cases, infections result in death.