HIV stands for Human Immunodeficiency Virus and is the virus known to cause AIDS (Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome). HIV kills or damages cells of the body's immune system, progressively destroying its ability to fight infections and certain cancers.
A person infected with HIV is only said to have AIDS either when the immune system damage has reached a certain severity or they have developed one or more of a list of 26 otherwise rare illnesses as a result of the immune system breakdown. It can take from a few months to over 10 years for an infected person to develop symptoms.
HIV is passed on from an infected person through the transfer of body fluids such as blood, semen, vaginal fluid and breast milk.
There are certain groups whose activities may put them at higher risk of infection than others. These include; men who have sex with men (MSM), injecting drug users (IDU), people who have lived as adults in countries where heterosexual transmission of HIV is common (notably South, East and Central Africa) and babies born to infected mothers.
There is no vaccine or cure yet available for HIV infection but there is treatment which dramatically slows the progress of the disease.
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