HIV (human immunodeficiency virus) is the virus that causes AIDS (acquired immune deficiency syndrome). People with HIV will eventually develop AIDS. There is currently no cure, although early detection and treatment with new medication combinations greatly increase both the quality of life and life expectancy. These medications are extremely expensive, however, with complex dosage schedules and side effects. Financial assistance for people infected with HIV is available.

HIV may be spread through blood-to-blood contact (which includes sharing needles with an infected drug user) and sexual contact. Mothers may pass the virus to their children while breastfeeding, as well as during pregnancy and delivery.

A person infected with HIV will usually develop AIDS within ten years. Symptoms of HIV may not appear for many of these years, so a person may carry HIV without knowing it. Warning signs of HIV infection include rapid weight loss, dry cough, recurring fever or profuse night sweats, extreme and unexplained fatigue, swollen lymph glands, diarrhea that lasts for more than a week and white spots or unusual blemishes on the tongue (see Symptoms below).

HIV weakens the immune system, putting a person at greater risk for opportunistic infections. These infections are usually very mild in persons without HIV, but can cause severe illness in people with HIV-damaged immune systems.

Disease Profile

  • What it is: HIV (human immunodeficiency virus) is the virus that causes AIDS (acquired immune deficiency syndrome). HIV attacks and destroys the immune system, leaving your body unguarded in the face of other infections. When the body has lost a significant amount of its immune cells (CD4 cells), or when there is a large number of HIV particles in your body and you experience an opportunistic infection, you have AIDS. Opportunistic infections that may occur can include candidiasis of the esophagus, bronchi, trachea, or lungs; chronic cryptosporidiosis, disseminated or pulmonary histoplasmosis, Pneumoscystis carinii, or Kaposi's sarcoma.
  • Transmission: HIV is passed via blood-to-blood contact, sexual contact, and from mother to child. Blood-to-blood contact commonly occurs with illegal drug users who share intravenous needles or syringes. HIV may be transmitted through sexual contact since the virus is carried not only in the blood, but also in vaginal secretions and semen. If you engage in sexual intercourse or oral sex with an infected person and do not use adequate protection (such as a condom), there is a chance that the virus could enter your bloodstream and infect you. Finally, HIV-positive mothers may pass the virus on to their babies during pregnancy, childbirth or even breastfeeding.
  • Symptoms: A person does not need to look or feel sick to have HIV. However, up to 70 percent of the very newly infected will develop flu-like symptoms that last a few days. After the initial flu-like symptoms, other common symptoms reported include rapid weight loss; dry cough; recurring fever or profuse night sweats; profound and unexplained fatigue; swollen lymph glands in the armpits, groin, or neck; diarrhea that lasts for more than a week; white spots or unusual blemishes on the tongue, in the mouth, or in the throat; pneumonia; red, pink, brown or purplish blotches on or under the skin or inside the mouth, nose or eyelids; memory loss, depression and other neurological disorders.
  • High risk groups: Men who have unprotected sex with men, heterosexuals who have unprotected sex and illegal injection drug users. Overall, HIV infection is spreading fastest in this country among young people, women, African Americans, and Hispanics. In Mississippi, HIV is most common among black males aged 30-34.
  • Testing: An HIV-positive person may not show signs of the illness for years, and so it is especially important for those who think they may be infected to be tested so that preventive care may begin. It is also important to know if you are infected so that you will not pass the virus on to others, and so that you may notify past sexual partners or others who may have it and not know it. Testing of women who are at risk and pregnant is of particular importance. Women with HIV who are pregnant can greatly reduce the risk of transmission to their baby by taking appropriate medications during pregnancy.

    Although an HIV test will usually give accurate results three months after exposure to the virus, it may take up to six months for the test to be truly accurate. For this reason, it is important to be re-tested after six months to give the body time to produce antibodies in response to the virus, which the test can detect.

    Visit your nearest health department for a free or discounted test. Home test kits are also available. At present, the only one approved by the FDA is Home Access, which can be found at drug stores.

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More Information

Additional Resources Contact

For more information contact:

  • Your local health office, or call our Health Info Hotline at 1-866-HLTHY4U (1-866-458-4948). AIDS testing is free and private.
  • Aids Hotline: 1-800-826-2961
  • The National STD and AIDS Hotlines, 1-800-227-8922 or 1-800-342-2437. (24 hours, 7 days)
  • Spanish: 1-800-344-7432 from 7 a.m. to 1 a.m. Central time
  • Hearing-impaired: 1-800-243-7889 from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. Central time

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Last reviewed on Feb 24, 2014
Mississippi State Department of Health 570 East Woodrow Wilson Dr Jackson, MS 39216 866-HLTHY4U web@HealthyMS.com
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