Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV)
Human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) is a virus that attacks the cells in the body’s immune system. Without treatment, HIV can turn into AIDS (acquired immunodeficiency syndrome), which is life-threatening. Today's HIV treatments are advanced enough that most people who are living with HIV can enjoy a near-normal lifespan without their symptoms progressing into AIDS-related illnesses.
As part of an academic medical center connected to ongoing research, The University of Kansas Health System learns of HIV treatment advances as they are developing. Our patients are often among the first to benefit from these new therapeutic discoveries through access to clinical trials.
What is human immunodeficiency virus (HIV)?
Like any immunodeficiency disorder, HIV impairs the body's ability to fight off illness and infections by attacking the immune system. HIV is primarily spread through sexual contact, much like other sexually transmitted infections.
However, HIV can also be spread through contact with infected blood. Mothers who are HIV-positive can pass HIV to their child during pregnancy, childbirth or breastfeeding. HIV can also be transmitted through blood transfusions or by sharing needles. Currently, there is no cure for HIV.
Types of HIV
Doctors have identified 2 types of HIV, and each is a distinct virus:
Although HIV-1 is far more common than HIV-2, both types of HIV will progress to AIDS without treatment.
HIV and AIDS symptoms and risks
The symptoms of HIV vary depending on the phase of infection.
In the primary phase (2-4 weeks after infection), people may notice flu-like symptoms:
- Aches and pains
- Night sweats
- Sore throat
- Swollen lymph nodes
The illness from these symptoms can last up to several weeks. Initial HIV symptoms can be so mild that many people don't realize they've contracted HIV, yet this is also the time when HIV is at its most infectious and can be spread most easily to other people.
After initial infection, HIV enters the clinical latent infection phase. This stage can last for many years and is typically asymptomatic. HIV can still be spread to other people during this stage, even if you don't have any symptoms.
Over time, as the virus destroys more immune system cells, you may notice more frequent mild infections and illnesses, including pneumonia, oral yeast infections (thrush) and shingles. HIV remains transmissible at this stage.
Without treatment in the earlier stages, HIV progresses to AIDS in about 8-10 years. AIDS is a terminal diagnosis. Treatment for AIDS focuses on symptom management and providing compassionate hospice care.
The symptoms of AIDS vary, but can include:
- Chronic or frequent mild illnesses that become more severe
- Extreme fatigue
- Prolonged lymph node swelling
- Rapid, unexplained weight loss
- Sores in the mouth or around the genitals and anus
- Unusual spots or lesions on the skin, mouth or tongue
HIV diagnosis and screening
Doctors diagnose HIV using blood tests. An HIV test checks for the HIV antibody, and can also measure the amount of HIV virus in the blood (viral load). Measuring the viral load also helps determine which stage of HIV infection you have and helps your doctor monitor the effectiveness of your treatment.
Find a doctor
Doctors at The University of Kansas Health System are care providers and researchers at the forefront of new medical discoveries. From primary care to complex conditions, we offer hundreds of specialists.
HIV and AIDS treatment
There is no cure for HIV. However, HIV treatment with antiretroviral therapy (ART) can limit the progression of HIV so that it doesn't become AIDS. ART involves a combination of HIV medications that work together to keep your viral load low.
A lower viral load means your immune system can continue working properly. Lowering your viral load also reduces the risk of transmitting HIV to others. If you are on HIV-suppressed and -controlled medication for 6 months, you are unable to transmit HIV through sexual intercourse.
Once you begin antiretroviral therapy, it's important to continue taking your HIV treatment regimen consistently. Inconsistent doses can cause drug resistance, which means that the virus stops responding to treatment.
Today there are over 40 new HIV medications on the market, and most are tolerable with minimal side effects. Several new medications are being developed each year including a monthly injection.
Why choose us for HIV care
We have dedicated HIV pharmacists credentialed through the American Academy of HIV Medicine. They provide HIV medications and pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP), a course of medications for people who are at risk for HIV, to patients in the infectious disease clinic. Other services they offer include:
- Assistance with medication coverage and affordability
- Medication education
- Medication review and screening for drug interactions
- Periodic check-ins to discuss how you're feeling on the medication
- Personalized medication selection in partnership with your provider
- Clinical trials, giving patients the opportunity to benefit from breakthrough medicine.
- Multidisciplinary care across the health system, including mental and behavioral health, substance abuse, colorectal cancer collaboration, family medicine, aging care and more.
- 4 social workers who are part of the federally-funded Ryan White HIV/AIDS Program. We accept Ryan White as payor.
- Telehealth consultations, included the ability to get labs done close to your home with your HIV care managed virtually.
You do not have to be gay to get HIV. Anyone can get HIV, no matter their sexuality or gender. HIV can be transmitted to a person of the opposite sex through sexual intercourse
Everyone between the ages of 13 to 64 should get tested for HIV at least once. You should be tested regularly if:
- You have had sexual intercourse with multiple partners.
- You are a man who has had sexual intercourse with another man.
- You have had sexual intercourse with someone who is or could be HIV positive.
- You have injected drugs or have shared needles with others.
- You have exchanged sex for money or other items.
- You have been treated for or diagnosed with hepatitis, tuberculosis or another sexually transmitted infections.
You can get tested at your primary care physician's office, any urgent care location, emergency department or any public health department. You can also buy over-the-counter HIV tests at your local pharmacy.
HIV is not transmitted through saliva, so you cannot get HIV from sharing a drink with another person. You are also at very low risk for getting HIV when kissing unless there are open sores or blood in the mouth.
There are about 35,000 new infections each year. About 1 in 7 people who have HIV don’t know that they have it.
The only 100% effective way to avoid getting HIV and other sexually transmitted infections is to abstain from sex and using needles. While not 100% effective, other options that are effective including using condoms during sexual intercourse, avoiding sexual intercourse with multiple partners or HIV-positive partners, getting tested and treated for HIV and other sexually transmitted infections, and talking to your doctor about pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) or post-exposure prophylaxis (PEP).