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Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome (AIDS) Human Immunodeficiency Virus Infection (HIV)

HIV infection is caused by the human immunodeficiency virus which affects the immune system. It can start with a flu like illness which resolves by itself with no further symptoms for years.

As the immune system is damaged over time one can develop progressively serious infections, cancers, wasting and if untreated lead to death. As the individuals immune system is weakened and they develop serious infections the condition is referred to as Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome or AIDS.

Special Note

Some countries screen travelers on extended visits such as those involved in study or work for HIV and may deny entry to those who are infected or suspected of being infected.

Some countries have deported travelers whose luggage contained anti-retroviral medications. Please check http://www.unaids.org/en/KnowledgeCentre/HIVData/mapping_progress.asp

Where does it occur?

It occurs worldwide.

How is it transmitted?

It is transmitted primarily through unprotected sexual intercourse.  It can also be transmitted through sharing of contaminated needles, contact of broken skin or mucosa with infected bodily fluids, transfusion of contaminated blood products and transplantation of infected organs or tissues.

Is it contagious from person to person?


What is the risk for travelers?

The risk for the international traveler is generally low but is dependent on the behavior of the traveler. Those engaging in unprotected sexual intercourse are at higher risk. The sterilization of medical devices and screening of blood products for the HIV virus in developing countries are not assured and can thus pose a risk.

How soon after exposure will I develop symptoms?

Initial symptoms can develop within 2-4 weeks after exposure, last for 1-2 weeks and subside. Symptoms of advanced HIV or AIDS may not be seen for another 5-15 years.

What are the signs and symptoms?

Initial symptoms are characterized by fever, sore throat, body aches, joint pains, nausea, vomiting, swollen lymph glands and sometimes a red rash. These symptoms usually last one to two weeks and are many times indistinguishable from the flu or other respiratory viral illnesses.

Advanced symptoms are characterized by progressively severe infections of the skin, mouth, lungs, gastrointestinal tract, genitourinary system and central nervous system with a variety of viruses, bacteria, parasites and fungi. Symptoms can include fevers, white patches in the mouth, severe diarrhea, nausea-vomiting, cough, shortness of breath, headaches etc depending on the organism causing infection and the organ system involved.

One can also see cancers like lymphoma and Kaposi’s sarcoma.

Are there any lab tests to diagnose the illness?

Blood antibody and PCR tests are available to diagnose HIV infection; there are also tests to assess the status of one’s immune system.

Is there any treatment?

Over the past decade numerous medications called anti-retroviral agents have become available, please consult with your physician.

What preventive measures can be taken?

Avoid high risk behaviors of unprotected sexual intercourse, sharing of needles etc. Avoid having blood product transfusions, dental or medical procedures in developing countries unless one is absolutely sure of the reliability of blood screening and sterilization procedures.

If one had a high risk exposure, for example through an accidental needle stick or unprotected sex, a combination of anti-retroviral agents taken within 1-72 hours may be helpful in preventing or decreasing the severity of HIV infection, please consult your physician.

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