What is HIV?

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Human immunodeficiency virus or HIV is a virus that targets a person’s immune system. Individuals affected with HIV have a weakened immune system, making them susceptible to many illnesses and infections, which eventually leads to acquired immunodeficiency syndrome or AIDS.

The HIV virus attacks white blood cells that are key to the body’s disease fighting ability. These white blood cells are called CD4+ cells, and in the case of individuals affected with HIV, these CD4+ cells are destroyed gradually by the virus. If too many of these cells are destroyed, the person’s body no longer has the same capability to ward of infections.

HIV can be transmitted through the exchange of body fluids. One of the most common modes of transmission is through unprotected sexual contact. Other transmission modes include blood transfusion, sharing of needles, breast-feeding, or mother-child during pregnancy. HIV cannot be simply passed through kissing or sharing of drinking glasses.

One of the earliest symptoms of HIV are fever, headache, swelling of lymph nodes, skin rashes and body/joint pain. These symptoms can occur within the first few days or weeks, and can easily be dismissed as symptoms for other, more common illnesses such as the flu. The symptoms might not appear again for many years, oftentimes for more than a decade, when the immune system is very much compromised.

There is no known cure for HIV or for AIDS, but early detection can enable the affected individual to seek out treatment which will retard the spread of the virus and the damage to the immune system.

Some of the practical ways to avoid HIV are:
~ Practice safe sex through the use of condoms
~ Avoid having multiple sex partners
~ Do not share syringes, toothbrushes or razors

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