HIV/AIDS fact sheet

The letters "AIDS" stand for Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome. "HIV" stands for Human Immunodeficiency Virus.


  • The HIV virus is a germ that attacks certain types of white blood cells in human blood.
  • This virus attacks a person's immune system and damages their ability to fight off some diseases.
  • Without a functioning immune system to ward off other germs, the person is vulnerable to several infections caused by bacteria, fungi, other viruses, and malignancies. These may cause life-threatening illnesses.
  • Some of the most common illnesses are pneumonia, meningitis, and tuberculosis.
  • Individuals may also develop certain types of cancers such as Kaposi's sarcoma, lymphomas, Hodgkin's disease, and multiple basal cell carcinomas.
  • Treatment of HIV can delay damage to the immune system and progression to AIDS.


  • Many people with HIV have no symptoms and may not realize they are infected.
  • Symptoms that occur with HIV are similar to those of other viral infections. If you feel you are at risk for HIV, you should be tested, regardless of whether or not you have symptoms.

How AIDS is spread

  • Sexual intercourse (vaginal, anal or oral) with an infected person
  • Blood contamination (for example, sharing needles for intravenous drug abuse)
  • Mother to Child (during pregnancy, during birth, and during breast feeding)

You do not get AIDS from:

  • Touching, social kissing, coughing, or sneezing
  • Contact with eating utensils, water fountains, toilet seats, telephones, typewriters, etc.
  • Teardrops, saliva, or sweat
  • Using facilities such as public swimming pools, restrooms, or gymnasiums
  • Being close to other people such as on a crowded bus, in a classroom, or restaurant


  • Infection results from a sexual relationship with an infected person
  • People who share needles while using street drugs are at greatest risk of exposure and infections

No known cure

There is presently no cure for AIDS and at present no vaccine to prevent AIDS


A number of antiviral drugs are available to treat HIV. The drugs fall into three main classes:

  1. Nucleoside reverse transcriptase inhibitors
  2. Non-nucleoside reverse transcriptase inhibitors, and
  3. Protease inhibitors

These three classes of drugs attack HIV at different stages in the cellÕs life cycle. People with HIV are given a combination of drugs from different classes for maximum benefit. New drugs and classes of drugs are emerging as research continues.


  • Protect yourself or your partner by using a condom during sexual intercourse
  • If you are a partner are at risk, avoid mouth contact with the penis, vagina, or rectum
  • Avoid all sexual activities which could cause cuts or tears in the linings of the rectum, vagina, or penis
  • If you have had unprotected intercourse with more than one person and/or your sexual partner has had unprotected sex with more than one person, have a blood test to see if you have been infected with the AIDS virus.
  • Do not share intravenous drug equipment
  • Antiviral medications may be prescribed for unanticipated sexual or injection drug use exposure to HIV. Treatment for the exposed person must begin within 72 hours.
Last reviewed: 
June 2018

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