Health Library

Health Library

Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV)

What is human immunodeficiency virus (HIV)?

Human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) causes acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS), which kills or impairs cells of the immune system and progressively destroys the body's ability to fight infections and certain cancers. The term AIDS applies to the most advanced stages of an HIV infection.

How is HIV spread?

HIV is spread most commonly by sexual contact with an infected partner. HIV may also be spread through contact with infected blood, especially by sharing needles, syringes, or drug use equipment with someone who is infected with the virus. HIV transmission from mother to child during pregnancy, labor, and delivery, or by breastfeeding, has accounted for nearly all AIDS cases reported among US children.

What are the symptoms of HIV?

The HIV virus may cause flu-like illness within a month or two after exposure, although there may not be any symptoms at all. Persistent or severe symptoms may surface within two years in babies born with an HIV infection.

The symptoms of HIV may resemble other conditions or medical problems. Always consult your baby's physician for a diagnosis.

The National Institutes of Medicine, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, and the American Academy of Pediatrics and other health organizations recommend HIV testing of all pregnant women. Prenatal care that includes HIV counseling, testing, and treatment for infected mothers and their children saves lives and resources. Current recommendations are for HIV-positive women to take specific medications during pregnancy and during labor. Blood tests are also performed to check the amount of virus. Newborn babies of HIV-positive mothers may also receive medication. Studies have found that giving a mother antiretroviral medications during pregnancy, labor, and delivery can reduce the chance of transmission of HIV to the baby to less than 2 percent.

Cesarean delivery may be recommended for HIV-positive women, depending on the viral load. This also helps reduce the risk of transmission of the virus to the baby, especially when the mother receives medications. HIV may also be transmitted through breast milk.  Because breast milk contains the virus, HIV positive women should not breastfeed their babies.

Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) - WellSpan Health

Online Medical Reviewer: Bowers, Nancy, RN, BSN, MPH
Online Medical Reviewer: newMentor board-certified, academically affiliated clinician
© 2014 WellSpan Health. All Rights Reserved. This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare professional's instructions.

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