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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.

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Content last updated: September 22, 2009.

Resources last updated: September 22, 2009.

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