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AIDS (acquired immunodeficiency syndrome) is a disease caused by the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV). It was first reported in the United States in 1981 and has since become a major worldwide epidemic. In 2009,
In the United States, more than 1 million people currently are living with HIV/AIDS. In 2008, there were approximately 42,439 new HIV infections, with the highest proportion among African Americans despite the fact that they make up only 12 percent of the U.S. population.
HIV is a fragile virus. It cannot live for very long outside the body. As a result, the virus is not transmitted through day-to-day activities such as shaking hands, hugging, or a casual kiss. You cannot become infected from a toilet seat, drinking fountain, doorknob, dishes, drinking glasses, food, or pets. You also cannot get HIV from mosquitoes.
HIV is primarily found in the blood, semen, or vaginal fluid of an infected person. HIV is transmitted in 3 main ways:
HIV also can be transmitted through blood infected with HIV. However, since 1985, all donated blood in the United States has been tested for HIV. Therefore, the risk for HIV infection through the transfusion of blood or blood products is extremely low. The U.S. blood supply is considered among the safest in the world.
Although researchers have found HIV in the saliva of infected people, there is no evidence that the virus is spread by contact with saliva. Laboratory studies reveal that saliva has natural properties that limit the power of HIV to infect, and the amount of virus in saliva appears to be very low. Research studies of people infected with HIV have found no evidence that the virus is spread to others through saliva by kissing. However, prolonged open-mouth kissing could damage the mouth or lips and allow HIV to pass from an infected person to a partner and then enter the body through cuts or sores in the mouth. .
In the initial stages of HIV infection, most people will have very few, if any, symptoms. Within a month or two after infection, individuals may experience a flu-like illness, including:
These symptoms usually disappear within a week to a month and are often mistaken for another viral infection, such as influenza (flu). However, during this period people are highly infectious because HIV is present in large quantities in genital fluids and blood. Some people infected with HIV may experience more severe symptoms initially or a longer duration of clinical symptoms, while others may remain symptom-free for 10 years or more.
During the late stages of HIV infection, the virus severely weakens the immune system, and people infected with the virus may experience the following symptoms:
Each of these symptoms can be related to other illnesses. The only way to determine if you are infected with HIV is to get tested.