284 HIV and AIDS
HIV(Human Immunodeficiency Virus) is a very small germ,
called a virus, that you cannot see. AIDS (Acquired Immune
Deficiency Syndrome) is a disease that develops later, after a
person has been infected with HIV, the AIDS virus.
When a person becomes infected with HIV, the virus attacks
the immune system, the part of your body that fights off infection.
HIV slowly kills the cells of the immune system until the body can
no longer defend itself against other infections. Most people who
are infected do not get sick from their HIV for 5 to 10 years. But
eventually the immune system cannot fight off common infections.
Because HIV takes years to make someone sick, most people with
HIV feel healthy and do not know they have it.
IMPORTANT HIV can spread to others as soon as you are infected,
even though you look and feel healthy. You cannot tell from looking at a
person if he or she has HIV. The only way to know if you are infected is to
get the HIV test (see page 288).
The body has millions of white blood cells
that attack germs and fight off infection.
HIV kills the white blood cells until there
are not enough cells left to attack the
germs. This is when the person has AIDS.
A person has AIDS when the immune system gets so weak
that it can no longer fight off infections. Often the signs are
staying sick with several common illnesses (see page 297),
such as diarrhea or flu. The signs of AIDS may be different in
different people. A person with AIDS may also get infections
that are rare in people without HIV, like certain cancers or
Good nutrition and the right medicines can help the person’s
body fight infections caused by AIDS and allow her or him to
live longer. But there is no cure for HIV itself.
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