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HIV Infection and AIDS

What are HIV and AIDS?

HIV (human immunodeficiency virus) is the virus that causes AIDS (acquired immunodeficiency syndrome). HIV attacks the body's immune system. The immune system is the body's defense against infections. Over time, HIV weakens the body’s ability to fight serious infections and some cancers. When this happens, HIV infection becomes AIDS. AIDS can be life threatening, but it is also a preventable disease.

What is the cause?

HIV spreads from person to person when infected blood or sexual secretions, such as semen, enter the body. Men, women, and children of all ages can get HIV. You can get infected with HIV through:

  • Unsafe sex
  • Dirty needles or other supplies used to inject drugs
  • Transfusion of blood or blood products in countries where the blood is not carefully tested

HIV is not spread through the air, in food, or by casual social contact such as shaking hands or hugging.

Babies can get infected before they are born or from the breast milk of an infected mother.

What are the symptoms?

A baby born with HIV often has no signs of HIV infection at birth. When infected babies are 2 to 3 months old, they may start having problems, such as:

  • Poor weight gain
  • Yeast infections that can cause constant diaper rash, and infections in the mouth and throat that make it hard to eat
  • Swollen lymph nodes
  • Swollen belly
  • Nervous system problems (such as seizures or being slower to walk and talk than other children their age)

A child with HIV tends to get more infections, and get sicker than other children from common infections like the flu.

Teens who get HIV may not have symptoms at the time of infection. It may take years for symptoms to show. During this time, they can spread the virus to others without knowing they have the virus.

When symptoms start, they are usually the symptoms of the other diseases that are able to attack the body because of a weak immune system, such as:

  • Fever
  • Loss of appetite or weight
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Feeling tired all the time
  • Swollen glands
  • Sore throat
  • Sores on the skin or in the mouth
  • Repeated, severe infections in the mouth or vagina even after treatment
  • Muscle and joint pain
  • Diarrhea
  • Headache
  • Blurry vision or other problems with vision

How is it diagnosed?

HIV is diagnosed with blood tests.

How is it treated?

Medicines can slow down the disease, but they are not a cure. Your child may need to have blood tests every few weeks or months to see how the virus is affecting his or her body and how well the treatment is working. Treatment for HIV/AIDS may include treatment or prevention of other infections and tumors.

To work properly, anti-HIV drugs need to be taken at the right time and in the right way. This can be hard for children. Kids may not want to take bad-tasting medicines or may not want to take medicines in front of other people. Talking with your healthcare provider and support groups can help.

Some immunizations may be different for babies or children with HIV/AIDS. Children whose immune systems are very weak will not be given live virus vaccines, such as measles-mumps-rubella (MMR), varicella (chickenpox), rotavirus, and flu vaccines that use a live virus.

How can I help take care of my child?

If your child has HIV or AIDS, here are some things you can do to take care of your child and help prevent problems.

Follow the full course of treatment prescribed by your healthcare provider. In addition:

  • Give your child medicines exactly as prescribed. Know what to do if your child misses a dose.
  • Contact a local AIDS support network. Your provider should be able to help you find one.

Ask your provider:

  • How and when you will hear your child’s test results
  • If there are activities your child should avoid and when your child can return to normal activities
  • How to take care of your child at home
  • What symptoms or problems you should watch for and what to do if your child has them
  • Make sure you know when your child should come back for a checkup. Keep all appointments for provider visits or tests.

How can I help prevent HIV and AIDS?

At this time, there is no vaccine to prevent HIV and AIDS. For now, you can help to protect your children from HIV by doing these things:

  • Every pregnant woman should be tested for HIV. If you are HIV positive, talk to your healthcare provider before getting pregnant. You may be prescribed anti-HIV medicines to help prevent spread of the virus to the baby. The risk of spreading the infection to the baby can also be lowered by delivering the baby by C-section.
  • Babies born to HIV-infected mothers may be treated with antiviral drugs for at least the first 6 weeks of life to help prevent infection. Mothers with HIV should not breast-feed their babies. Giving formula instead of breast milk helps prevent spread of the virus to the baby.
  • Begin to talk with your children early about drugs, sex, and HIV. If you are not sure what to say, ask your healthcare provider for help.
  • If you learn that your child has been sexually abused or that your teen had unprotected sex, seek medical care right away. There are medicines to help prevent HIV if your child has recently been exposed.

You can get more information from:

Developed by RelayHealth.
Pediatric Advisor 2015.3 published by RelayHealth.
Last modified: 2014-09-23
Last reviewed: 2014-09-22
This content is reviewed periodically and is subject to change as new health information becomes available. The information is intended to inform and educate and is not a replacement for medical evaluation, advice, diagnosis or treatment by a healthcare professional.
Copyright ©1986-2015 McKesson Corporation and/or one of its subsidiaries. All rights reserved.
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