When a person is infected with HIV, the virus infects and can kill certain cells in the immune system called T-helper cells. This weakens the immune system so that other opportunistic infections can occur. The HIV infected person is said to have AIDS (Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome) when they become sick with other specific infections or when the number of T-helper cells has dropped below 200.
The virus is in the blood, semen, menstrual blood, vaginal secretions, and breast milk of HIV infected persons. The virus can be there even if the person has no symptoms of HIV-infection or AIDS. People who are infected with HIV will carry (and be able to pass on) the virus for the rest of their lives.
HIV can be spread during sex, by sharing needles to inject drugs, or from mother to baby (before or during birth, or by breast feeding). HIV is rarely spread by getting stuck by a used needle, or by getting blood or other infected body fluids onto a mouth, eyes, or broken skin. The virus is not spread by casual contact like living in the same household, or working with a person who carries HIV.
These symptoms and conditions may include: fever, weight loss, swollen lymph glands in the neck, under arms or groin, white patches in the mouth (thrush), certain cancers (Kaposi’s sarcoma, certain lymphomas, certain invasive cervical cancers), and infections (Pneumocystis pneumonia, certain types of meningitis, toxoplasmosis, certain blood infections, TB, etc.).
You can get a HIV blood test at your doctor’s office or at Counseling and Testing Sites throughout Maryland. Call your local health department or the AIDS Hotline (1-800-638-6252) for information.
Many drugs are available to treat the infections and cancers associated with AIDS. There are also drugs available for people with HIV infection that can help prevent them from getting sicker.
Call 410-996-5100 to speak to a Community Health Nurse
Free education and literature are available from 410-799-1940.
MD Department of Health & Mental Hygiene – Epidemiology & Disease Control Program