The human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) attacks the body's immune system. A healthy immune system is what keeps you from getting sick.
Because HIV damages your immune system, you are more likely to get sick from bacteria and viruses. It is also harder for your body to fight off these infections when you do get them, so you may have trouble getting better. HIV is the condition that causes acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS).
HIV can only be passed from person to person through body fluids, such as blood, semen and vaginal fluid. Children born to infected mothers can also become infected during pregnancy. The most common ways HIV is passed are:
Finding out that you are infected with HIV (human immunodeficiency virus) can be frightening. One way to fight your fear is to learn as much as you can about the disease. Knowing about HIV and AIDS (acquired immunodeficiency syndrome) will also help you take the best care of yourself.
You can fight your worry about HIV infection with reliable information. Although your friends and family may give you advice, the best information comes from your doctor or your counselor, or from the national, state or local community AIDS resources. Don't allow your feelings about your past behavior, your lifestyle or the possibility that you gave HIV to others keep you from seeking help and information.
The good news about HIV is that early treatment is helping many people with this infection live longer, healthier lives. It's normal to feel sadness, anxiety and fear when you first learn that you have tested positive for HIV. However, if you have trouble sleeping, eating or concentrating, or if you have thoughts of suicide, tell your doctor. If you are depressed or feel anxious, treatment can also help you feel better.
If you've been told you have HIV, give yourself permission to be afraid. It's OK. But don't let this fear keep you from doing all you can to help yourself. Here are some things you can do:
If you have tested positive for HIV, you must tell your past and present sexual partners. They should get tested too. You must also tell any future sexual partners that you have tested positive for HIV. If you are now in a relationship, you may wish to ask your doctor about how to explain your positive test results to your partner.
Let your doctor and dentist know that you have HIV. This will help them give you the care you need. Your privacy will be respected, and your doctor and dentist can't refuse to treat you just because you have HIV.
Everyone who tests positive for HIV should consider ahead of time which treatment options they would want if they become seriously ill and are unable to tell others what they want. Advance directives are written guidelines that tell doctors your wishes for different kinds of treatment if a time comes when you can't make those decisions yourself.
You should also consider getting a medical power-of-attorney. This is a legal document that names someone (e.g., a life partner, a family member or a friend) to make decisions for you if you are seriously ill. A lawyer can draw up the documents for an advance directive and a medical power-of-attorney.
Many national, state and local resources are available to people who are well but are worried about getting HIV, to people who are HIV positive, and to supportive partners, family members or friends.