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AIDS (Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome)

A person who has been infected by the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) is diagnosed as having AIDS after developing one of the illnesses that the Centers for Disease Control has identified as an indicator of AIDS. An HIV-positive person who has not had any serious illnesses also can receive an AIDS diagnosis based on certain blood tests (CD4+ counts).
When HIV weakens the immune system, "opportunistic" infections can take advantage of this weakened state and cause illness. Opportunistic infections include Kaposi's sarcoma and pneumocystis carinii pneumonia. Many of these illnesses are readily controlled by a healthy immune system.
Having been infected with HIV (being HIV positive and having HIV antibodies in the blood) is not the same as having AIDS. 


Proper, consistent use of latex condoms when engaging in sexual intercourse (vaginal, anal or oral) can greatly reduce a person's risk of acquiring or spreading sexually transmitted diseases.
Persons who are successfully being treated for HIV infection should be careful to follow preventive measures to avoid giving the infection to others. A person being treated for HIV should use condoms, safer sex practices and clean needles. Those who are HIV-positive but have undetectable viral loads should use the same strategies. 


When infected with HIV, a person's body develops antibodies against the infection, and these antibodies become detectable in laboratory tests within three months. After taking a medical history and performing a physical examination, a doctor may want to do other tests, including:
  • A complete blood count
  • A blood chemistry profile
  • A test for hepatitis B and C
  • A blood test to measure CD4 T cells. Because the virus uses these cells to copy itself, killing the CD4 T cells in the process, a low CD4 T cell count is an indicator of the progress of the disease
  • A blood test to measure viral load or the amount of HIV in a sample of blood. Those with a high viral load usually develop AIDS faster than those with a low viral load.
  • A syphilis screening
  • A tuberculin skin test
  • A toxoplasma antibody test
Women should also have a gynecological exam with a Pap smear and a pregnancy test. 


Pregnancy presents special challenges in the treatment of HIV. Pregnant women should not take some drugs that are usually given to persons who are infected with HIV because they may cause birth defects.
It is not yet possible to predict whether a woman who is HIV-positive will pass the infection to her baby. Studies indicate that taking zidovudine (AZT) reduces the risk of passing HIV to the baby by almost 70%. It is also important for a pregnant woman with HIV to get regular prenatal care and stick with her HIV drug treatment plan.