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Human Immunodeficiency Virus: Overview and Risk Factors

Worldwide, more than 40 million people are infected with human immunodeficiency virus (HIV). About 40,000 new infections occur every year in the United States.

HIV infects and destroys cells of the immune system. Over time, people with HIV develop infections and cancers due to their weakened immune systems. These include pneumonia, tuberculosis, dementia, meningitis, liver disease, chronic diarrhea, arthritis, herpes, Kaposi’s sarcoma, lymphoma, and other disorders.

Transmission of HIV occurs through sexual intercourse, intravenous drug use, mother–to–infant infection (during pregnancy or during breast–feeding), blood transfusions, or open wounds.

When someone becomes infected, the initial symptom is a flu–like or mononucleosis–like syndrome (headache, fever, chills, cough, and muscle aches) with a rash that occurs within four to 14 days of infection and lasts less than three weeks. Patients then return to their normal state of health for two to 10 or more years, while the virus slowly grows within the cells of the immune system.

Risk Factors


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