What is HIV?

HIV is a sexually transmitted infection (STI). It can also be spread by contact with infected blood or from mother to child during pregnancy, childbirth or breast-feeding.


Primary infection (Acute HIV)

Some people infected by HIV develop a flu-like illness within two to four weeks after the virus enters the body. This illness, known as primary (acute) HIV infection, may last for a few weeks. Possible signs and symptoms include:

● Fever

● Headache

● Muscle aches and joint pain

● Rash

● Sore throat and painful mouth sores

● Swollen lymph glands, mainly on the neck

● Diarrhea

● Weight loss

● Cough

● Night sweats

When AIDS occurs, your immune system has been severely damaged. You’ll be more likely to develop ​opportunistic infections or opportunistic cancers​ — diseases that wouldn’t usually cause illness in a person with a healthy immune system.

The signs and symptoms of some of these infections may include:

● 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


To become infected with HIV, ​infected blood, semen or vaginal secretions​ must enter your body. This can happen in several ways:

By having sex​. You may become infected if you have vaginal, anal or oral sex with an infected partner whose blood, semen or vaginal secretions enter your body. The virus can enter your body through mouth sores or small tears that sometimes develop in the rectum or vagina during sexual activity.

By sharing needles​. Sharing contaminated IV drug needles and syringes puts you at high risk of HIV and other infectious diseases, such as hepatitis.

From blood transfusions​. In some cases, the virus may be transmitted through blood transfusions. American hospitals and blood banks now screen the blood supply for HIV antibodies, so this risk is very small.

During pregnancy or delivery or through breast-feeding​. Infected mothers can pass the virus on to their babies. Mothers who are HIV-positive and get treatment for the infection during pregnancy can significantly lower the risk to their babies.


Use treatment as prevention (TasP).​ If you’re living with HIV, taking HIV medication can keep your partner from becoming infected with the virus.

Use post-exposure prophylaxis (PEP) ​if you’ve been exposed to HIV. If you think you’ve been exposed through sex, needles or in the workplace, contact your doctor or go to the emergency department. Taking PEP as soon as possible within the first 72 hours can greatly reduce your risk of becoming infected with HIV. Use a clean needle. ​If you use a needle to inject drugs, make sure it’s sterile and don’t share it.

If you’re pregnant, get medical care right away​. If you’re HIV-positive, you may pass the infection to your baby. But if you receive treatment during pregnancy, you can significantly cut your baby’s risk. Use a new condom every time you have sex.​ Use a new condom every time you have anal or vaginal sex. Women can use a female condom


Antigen/antibody tests.​ These tests usually involve drawing blood from a vein. Antigens are substances on the HIV virus itself and are usually detectable — a positive test — in the blood within a few weeks after exposure to HIV.

Antibodies are produced by your immune system when it’s exposed to HIV. It can take weeks to months for antibodies to become detectable. The combination antigen/antibody tests can take ​two to six weeks after exposure to become positive.

Antibody tests.​ These tests look for antibodies to HIV in blood or saliva. Most rapid HIV tests, including self-tests done at home, are antibody tests. Antibody tests can take ​three to 12 weeks after you’re exposed to become positive.

Nucleic acid tests (NATs)​. These tests look for the actual virus in your blood (viral load). They also involve blood drawn from a vein. If you might have been exposed to HIV within the past few weeks, your doctor may recommend NAT. NAT will be the ​first test to become positive after exposure to HIV.


Two drugs from one class, plus a third drug from a second class, are typically used. The classes of anti-HIV drugs include:

Non-nucleoside reverse transcriptase inhibitors (NNRTIs)

 ● Efavirenz

● Rilpivirine

● Doravirine

Nucleoside or nucleotide reverse transcriptase inhibitors (NRTIs)

● Abacavir

● Tenofovir

● Emtricitabine

● Lamivudine

● Zidovudine

● Combination drugs also are available, such as emtricitabine/tenofovir and emtricitabine/tenofovir alafenamide

● Protease inhibitors (PIs)

● Atazanavir

● Darunavir

● Lopinavir/ritonavir

● Integrase inhibitors

● Bictegravir sodium/emtricitabine/tenofovir alafenamide fumar

● Raltegravir

● Dolutegravir (Tivicay).

● Entry or fusion inhibitors

● Enfuvirtide

● Maraviroc