What is HIV/AIDS?

The human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) targets the immune system and interferes with the body's ability to fight organisms that cause disease. It is most commonly spread by sexual intercourse but can also be spread by contact with infected blood or from mother to child during pregnancy, childbirth or breast-feeding. HIV weakens the immune system to the point that one has AIDS (acquired immune deficiency syndrome), a chronic, potentially life-threatening condition that 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. AIDS can take from 2 to 15 years to develop depending on the individual. 
The virus destroys and impairs the function of immune cells and infected individuals gradually become immunodeficient. Immune function is typically measured by CD4 cell count. Immunodeficiency results in increased susceptibility to a wide range of infections, cancers and other diseases that people with healthy immune systems can fight off. 
The stages of HIV/AIDS are:
  • Stage 1: Acute HIV infection
People may experience a flu-like illness. This is the body’s natural response to any infection. Those with acute infection are often unaware but large amounts of virus are in their blood and are very contagious.
  • Stage 2: Clinical latency (HIV inactivity or dormancy) aka asymptomatic HIV infection or chronic HIV infection
HIV is still active but reproduces at very low levels where people may not have any symptoms or get sick during this time. People can still transmit HIV to others during this phase. Toward the end, a person’s viral load starts to go up and the CD4 cell count begins to go down. As this happens, the person may begin to have symptoms as the virus levels increase in the body, and the person moves into Stage 3.
  • Stage 3: Acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS)
People with AIDS have badly damaged immune systems and an increasing number of severe illnesses. People are diagnosed with AIDS when their CD4 cell count drops below 200 cells/mm or if they develop certain opportunistic illnesses. Over time, HIV can destroy so many of these cells that the body can’t fight off infections and disease. These opportunistic infections or cancers take advantage of a very weak immune system and signal that the person has AIDS, the last stage of HIV infection.
Risk factors
  • Unprotected sex. Having sex without using a new latex or polyurethane condom every time puts one at a great risk for HIV/AIDS. Anal sex is more risky than is vaginal sex. The risk increases if you have multiple sexual partners.
  • Additional STI. Many sexually transmitted infections (STIs) produce open sores on your genitals. These sores act as doorways for HIV to enter your body.
  • Use of intravenous drugs. Intravenous drug users often share needles and syringes, exposing them to droplets of other people's blood.
  • Are an uncircumcised man. The lack of circumcision increases the risk of heterosexual transmission of HIV.
Diagnosis is made by testing a person's blood or saliva for the presence of antibodies (disease-fighting proteins) against HIV. Home tests are available and if the test is positive, you need to see your doctor to confirm the diagnosis.
There is no cure for an HIV infection, however, with proper medical care, HIV can be controlled. Medical treatments can not only slow down the rate at which HIV weakens the immune system, but also may keep HIV in check so that the individual has a chance to live a normal life span. 
  • An estimated 1.1 million adults and adolescents are living with HIV/AIDS in the United States. 
  • In 2015, 39,513 people were diagnosed with HIV. The annual number of new diagnoses declined by 9% from 2010 to 2014.
  • In the United States, 6,721 people died from HIV and AIDS in 2014. 
  • Worldwide, there were about 2.1 million new cases of HIV in 2015. 
  • About 36.7 million people are living with HIV around the world.
HIV/AIDS about

  • "About HIV/AIDS." Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 30 Nov. 2016. Web. 07 May 2017.
  • "HIV/AIDS." Mayo Clinic. Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research, 21 July 2015. Web. 07 May 2017.
  • "HIV/AIDS." World Health Organization. World Health Organization, n.d. Web. 07 May 2017.
  • "HIV and AIDS." HIV and AIDS | Johns Hopkins Medicine Health Library. Johns Hopkins Health System, n.d. Web. 12 May 2017.


Some of the "star walkers" from the 2016 AIDS Walk New York weigh in on what makes it such a special and important event. Interviewees include (in order of appearance) Erich Bergen (Blake Moran on "Madam Secretary"), Van Hansis (Luke Snyder on "As the World Turns"), Kit Williamson (Ed Gifford on "Mad Men"), Nick Adams (Fiyero in broadway production of "Wicked"), and Kelsey Louie (CEO, GMHC).
HIV/AIDS about AIDS walk celebs


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