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Human immunodeficiency (IH-myoo-noh-dih-FISH-uhn-see) virus, or HIV, is a type of virus that invades cells of the immune system. The immune system is your body's defense system against disease-causing germs. HIV causes acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS), a disease that weakens your body's ability to fight infections and certain cancers.
The main way HIV is spread is through sexual activity. Vaginal, anal, and oral sex can all spread HIV. The next most common way that HIV is spread is by sharing items used in injection drug use, such as injection needles and syringes. HIV can also be spread from an infected mother to her unborn baby during pregnancy or delivery. And HIV from an infected mother can be spread to her baby through breastfeeding.
HIV has no cure, but it can be prevented. Also, treatment can help people infected with HIV stay healthy and feel their best for a long time. Knowing your HIV status and taking preventive steps, such as using a condom, are ways to help prevent the spread of HIV.
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More information on HIV/AIDS
Read more from womenshealth.gov
- Women and HIV/AIDS - This section of womenshealth.gov provides women with resources and information to get help with HIV/AIDS. It provides information on prevention, testing, living with the disease, opportunistic infections, medical care, pregnancy, and more.
Explore other publications and websites
- AIDS Dementia Complex (Copyright © Project Inform) - This publication talks about AIDS dementia complex (ADC), including detailed descriptions of the symptoms it causes in its different stages. It describes how HIV is thought to cause ADC and how doctors diagnose and treat ADC and its symptoms.
- Employees With HIV/AIDS (Copyright © Job Accommodation Network) - This publication for employers provides basic information on HIV/AIDS and suggests ways that employers might accommodate employees living with HIV/AIDS.
- The Global HIV/AIDS Epidemic (Copyright © Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation) - This fact sheet provides statistical data on the global HIV/AIDS epidemic, including its prevalence throughout the world, how it is being treated, and what the United States is doing to respond to it.
- HIV: How to Avoid Infections When You Have HIV (Copyright © American Academy of Family Physicians) - This fact sheet discusses ways to protect yourself from other infections if you are HIV-positive. It also discusses precautions in regards to pets, travel, food, and water.
- Prevention of Parent-to-Child Transmission of HIV/AIDS (Copyright © UNICEF) - This publication provides statistics on the frequency of mother-to-child transmission of HIV and the clear difference of transmission rates between a parent taking preventative steps and one who neglects prevention.
- Questions and Answers: The Americans With Disabilities Act and Persons With HIV/AIDS - This report covers several issues concerning the Americans with Disabilities Act and people with HIV/AIDS, including employment, public accommodations, housing, and air transportation.
- Social Security for People Living With HIV/AIDS - If you have HIV/AIDS and cannot work, you may qualify for disability benefits from the Social Security Administration. This publication provides information about how to qualify and file for the benefits.
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Content last updated: September 22, 2009.
Resources last updated: September 22, 2009.
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