What Is HIV? HIV (human immunodeficiency virus) is a virus that attacks the immune system. The immune system becomes weaker, making it harder for the body to fight off infections and some kinds of cancers. Most people who are diagnosed early and take medicines for HIV can live long, healthy lives. What Is AIDS? AIDS (acquired immune deficiency syndrome) happens after someone has had HIV for many years. In AIDS, the immune system is severely weakened. Serious infections and health problems happen. Medicines can help prevent HIV from developing into AIDS. How Do People Get HIV? HIV spreads when infected blood or body fluids (such as semen or vaginal fluids) enter the body. This can happen: during sex (especially anal sex and vaginal sex) through sharing needles for injecting drugs or tattooing by getting stuck with a needle with an infected person's blood on it HIV also can pass from mother to child during pregnancy, childbirth, or breastfeeding. HIV is NOT spread through: pee, poop, spit, throw-up, or sweat (as long as no blood is present) coughing or sneezing holding hands sharing eating utensils or drinking glasses What Are the Signs & Symptoms of HIV and AIDS? When first infected with HIV, a person may have: fever swollen glands painful ulcers in the mouth or around the anus or penis headache rash muscle and joint pain These symptoms go away in a few weeks. In the first few years after infection, someone with HIV may have mild symptoms, like swollen glands. Because the symptoms of HIV can be mild at first, some people might not know they're infected. They can spread HIV to others without even knowing it. After a few years, other symptoms start, including: diarrhea weight loss increased number of infections infections that are more severe than is typical Without treatment, HIV can lead to a very weakened immune system and progress to AIDS. Illnesses that happen in AIDS are called "AIDS-defining conditions." AIDS-defining conditions include: very fast and severe weight loss (called wasting syndrome) a lung infection called pneumocystis pneumonia Kaposi sarcoma (a type of skin cancer) lymphoma (cancer in immune system cells) What Causes HIV and AIDS? HIV destroys CD4 cells (also called T cells). CD4 cells are part of the immune system. They fight germs and help prevent some kinds of cancers. How Is HIV Diagnosed? Health care providers usually diagnose HIV through blood tests. Someone who has HIV is said to be "HIV positive." Tests also are available without a prescription at the drugstore. You can do the test at home. How Is AIDS Diagnosed? HIV is diagnosed as AIDS when someone: has fewer than 200 CD4 cellsor develops an AIDS-defining condition How Are HIV and AIDS Treated? Medicines can help people with HIV stay healthy. They can also prevent HIV from progressing to AIDS. Health care providers prescribe a combination of different medicines for people with HIV and AIDS. They must be taken exactly as prescribed or they won't work. These medicines: help keep the number of CD4 cells high reduce the viral load of HIV (how much HIV is in the body) Regular blood tests will check the number of CD4 cells in the body (called the CD4 cell count) and the viral load. If an HIV-positive person's CD4 count gets low, doctors prescribe daily antibiotics. This prevents pneumocystis pneumonia, which happens in people with weakened immune systems. Can HIV Be Prevented? To reduce the risk of getting HIV, people who are sexually active should: use a condom every time they have sex (including vaginal, oral, or anal sex) get tested for HIV and make sure all partners do too reduce their number of sexual partners get tested and treated for STDs (sexually transmitted diseases); having an STD increases the risk of HIV infection consider taking a medicine every day (called PrEP or pre-exposure prophylaxis) if they are at very high risk of getting infected (for example, if they are in a sexual relationship with someone with HIV) For everyone: Do not inject drugs or share any kind of needle. Do not share razors or other personal objects that may touch blood. Do not touch anyone else's blood from a cut or sore. Looking Ahead Treatment has improved greatly for people with HIV. By taking medicines and getting regular medical care, HIV-positive people can live long and healthy lives. Your child's medical care team is there for you and your child. They will help your child get the best treatment, and also can offer support to you and other caregivers. You can help if your child has HIV or AIDS. Make sure your child: goes to all doctor visits takes all medicines exactly as directed goes for all follow-up blood tests understands what HIV/AIDS is and how it spreads is physically active, gets enough sleep, and eats well Back to Articles Related Articles Are Steroids Worth the Risk? Will using steroids transform you into the most powerful athlete your coach has ever seen? Read this article to learn the facts on steroid use. Read More Can You Get HIV From Having Sex With Someone Who Has AIDS? Find out what the experts have to say. Read More How to Get Tested for HIV Often the only way to know if someone is infected with HIV is through testing. Here are the facts on what's involved in getting tested — and who should get tested for HIV and why. Read More HIV and AIDS Get the facts on HIV and AIDS in this article just for kids. Read More My Friend Has HIV. How Can I Help? People who have HIV might feel alone and frightened at times. More than anyone, they need good friends like you to lean on and trust. Read More STDs (Sexually Transmitted Diseases) You've probably heard lots of discouraging news about sexually transmitted diseases. The good news is that STDs can be prevented. Find out how to protect yourself. Read More STDs Parents should learn about the most common STDs, how they spread, and how they're diagnosed and treated. Read More Talking to Your Child About Drugs Just as you inoculate your kids against illnesses like measles, you can help "immunize" them against drug use by giving them the facts now. Read More Questions and Answers About Sex Answering kids' questions about sex is a responsibility many parents dread. But by answering these questions honestly, parents can help foster healthy feelings about sex. Read More How Do People Get AIDS? AIDS, or acquired immunodeficiency syndrome, is a disease where the body is unable to fight off many infectious diseases as it normally could. Find out how AIDS is spread and how to protect yourself against it. Read More Pneumocystis Pneumonia Pneumocystis pneumonia can affect infants who have AIDS, cancer, or other conditions that affect the immune system. Read More Immune System The immune system is made up of special cells, proteins, tissues, and organs that defend people against germs and microorganisms. Read More Talking to Your Partner About STDs You know you should talk about sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) before the action starts. But what if the thought of having "the talk" makes you nervous? These tips can help. Read More Immune System The immune system, composed of special cells, proteins, tissues, and organs that protect against germs and microorganisms, is the body's defense against disease. Read More HIV and AIDS There is no cure for AIDS, which is why prevention is so important. Get the facts on HIV/AIDS, as well as how it affects the body and is treated, in this article. Read More Drugs: What to Know It's not hard to find drugs, and sometimes it may seem like everyone's doing them or wanting you to do them. But there are downsides (and dangers) to taking drugs. Read More Note: All information is for educational purposes only. For specific medical advice, diagnoses, and treatment, consult your doctor. © 1995-2021 KidsHealth®. All rights reserved. Images provided by The Nemours Foundation, iStock, Getty Images, Veer, Shutterstock, and Clipart.com.