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. With time, HIV weakens your body’s ability to fight off serious infections and some cancers. When this happens, HIV infection becomes AIDS. AIDS can be life threatening, but it is also a preventable disease.
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:
HIV is not spread through the air, in food, or by casual social contact such as shaking hands or hugging.
A baby born with HIV often has no signs of HIV infection at birth. When babies are 2 to 3 months old, they may start having problems such as:
A child with HIV tends to get more infections, and get sicker than other children from common childhood 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 pass on the virus without even knowing they have it. When symptoms start, they are usually the symptoms of the other diseases that are able to attack the body because of the infection, such as:
Babies can get infected before or when they are born or from the breast milk of an infected mother.
HIV is diagnosed with blood tests.
Medicines to treat HIV have changed several times in the past 20 years. Medicines are not a cure. They slow down the disease in an infected child, but the virus is always present. Your child may need to have lab 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 types of 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 healthcare providers 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 certain flu (live virus) vaccines.
If your child has HIV or AIDS, here are some things you can do to take care of your child and help prevent problems.
Every pregnant woman should be tested for HIV. Women who are HIV positive should talk to their healthcare provider before getting pregnant. Pregnant women who are infected with HIV may be prescribed HIV-fighting drugs 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 instead of through the birth canal.
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.
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