AIDS is a disease caused by a virus called HIV (short for human
immunodeficiency virus). HIV attacks the body's immune system. When
the immune system is damaged it can no longer fight diseases the
way it used to.
People with HIV seem to be healthy at first. But after several
years, they begin to get sick. Often they get serious infections or
cancers. When this happens, they are diagnosed with AIDS. The most
common cause of death in people with AIDS is a type of pneumonia
called pneumocystis carinii pneumonia or PCP.
How Do People Get AIDS?
HIV is spread when body fluids, such as semen and blood, pass
from a person who has the infection to another person. For the most
part, the virus is spread by sexual contact or by sharing drug
needles and syringes.
Otherwise, HIV is not easy to catch. It is not spread by
mosquito bites, using a public telephone or restroom, being coughed
or sneezed on by an infected person, or touching someone with the
Medical experts predict that a cure or vaccine to prevent AIDS
will not be found in the near future. So stopping HIV depends on
each person's actions. You can prevent AIDS by thinking about the
risk of infection before sexual contact. Use condoms if sexually
involved with someone other than a mutually faithful, uninfected
Treatment and Help
Treatment for AIDS usually involves medicine, such as AZT
(azidothymidine). AZT does not cure AIDS but many patients use it
to stay healthier longer. Other promising drugs are being tested.
Doctors are also learning how to treat the diseases, like PCP, that
strike people with AIDS.
People with HIV infection should stay in touch with a doctor who
knows about the latest research. For help finding the name of an
expert, call a local medical school's department of infectious
diseases or the
National AIDS Hotline at 1-800-342-AIDS.
Adapted from The National
Institutes of Health, January 2000,
Original document published March, 1999
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care
provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a
substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER
IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the
advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to
starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a