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When to Seek Medical Care

If you have engaged in unprotected sex or shared needles while using drugs, you should have an HIV test. Early detection and treatment of the infection can slow the growth of HIV.

  • If you are pregnant, you may be able to reduce the risk to your unborn child by getting treatment early.
  • You can also avoid infecting others if you know that you have the disease. Testing is available anonymously and confidentially. You can even test yourself at home.

People known to have HIV infection or AIDS   should go to the hospital any time they develop high fever, shortness of breath, coughing up blood, severe diarrhea, severe chest or abdominal pain, generalized weakness, severe headache, seizures, confusion, or change in mental status. These may be the indication of a life-threatening condition for which an urgent evaluation in the hospital's emergency department is recommended.



People with HIV infection need close follow-up by their doctors and should probably see health care workers who have experience and expertise in treating HIV-related complications and the various medications needed to treat this infection. At follow-up, those with HIV should be counseled about spreading the disease and evaluated for medication side effects. Infected individuals are also educated about the disease process, and attempts are made to improve the quality of their life.


The only way to prevent infection by the virus is to avoid behaviors that put you at risk, such as sharing needles or having unprotected sex. Many people infected with HIV don't have any symptoms. There is no way to know with certainty whether a sexual partner is infected.

  • Either abstain from having sex or use latex condoms, which may offer partial protection, during oral, anal, or vaginal sex. Only condoms made of latex should be used. Only water-based lubricants should be used with latex condoms.
  • The risk of HIV transmission from a pregnant woman to her baby is significantly reduced if the mother takes AZT during pregnancy, labor, and delivery and her baby takes it for the first 6 weeks of life.



There is no cure for HIV infection. Antiretroviral treatment, however, reduces the HIV virus to a very low number.

  • These drugs help the immune system recover and fight infections and prevent cancers from occurring. Eventually, the virus may become resistant to the available drugs, and the manifestations of AIDS may develop.
  • Most of the opportunistic infections do not occur until the CD4+ count is less than 200.
  • Untreated HIV infection leads to AIDS; people with AIDS have a 2-3 year life expectancy. With highly active retroviral therapy, the number of AIDS deaths fell by 12% in 1996 and 47% in 1997.


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