Causes of HIV and AIDS

Learn about the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), which can lead to acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS). Also find out how HIV is spread.

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Causes of HIV infection and AIDS

HIV infection is caused by a virus that attacks the body’s immune system, making it unable to fight off certain infections. If the virus goes untreated, it can progress to AIDS. If you are HIV-positive (infected with HIV):

  • you may develop AIDS in 5 to 10 years if you do not get treatment for HIV infection
  • you can live a longer and healthier life if you start treatment early for HIV infection
  • you can prevent the sexual transmission of HIV to your partner if you are on treatment and are virally suppressed

HIV transmission

HIV is spread through infected body fluids, such as:

  • blood
  • semen
  • pre-seminal fluid
  • fluid from the rectum
  • fluid from the vagina
  • breast milk

HIV can only spread when infected fluid from a person with HIV gets into the body of another person through:

  • broken skin
  • wet linings of the body, such as the:
    • vagina
    • rectum
    • foreskin
  • the opening of the penis

If you have HIV, you can pass the virus to your baby during:

  • pregnancy
  • childbirth
  • breastfeeding

While there is still no cure for HIV, studies to date have shown that a person living with HIV, who is on treatment and virally suppressed, has a negligible risk of passing on an infection to their sex partner(s).

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