Infectious Diseases

What is HIV? What is AIDS?

Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) is a virus that attacks and weakens the immune system (the body’s defense system). The virus attacks and destroys white blood cells called CD4+ cells, which are an important part of the immune system. A weak immune system has trouble fighting off disease. The virus and the infection that it causes are called HIV. Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS) is the last stage of HIV disease. There is currently no cure for AIDS.

How is HIV spread?

HIV is spread by contact with infected blood, semen or vaginal fluids through:

  • Unprotected sexual contact, including oral sex, with a person who has HIV
  • Sharing drug needles with a person who has HIV
  • Mother to child (during pregnancy, birth, or breastfeeding)


The best ways to prevent the spread of HIV/AIDS:

  • Practice safe sex by using a condom every time you have sex.
  • Avoid injection drug use. If you use injection drugs, don’t share needles or syringes.
  • Don’t have more than one sex partner at a time. It is safest to have one partner who only has sex with you
  • Talk to your partner BEFORE having sex for the first time; find out if your partner is at risk for HIV, get tested, get retested 6 months later, and use condoms.
  • Be sober during sexual activity; don’t drink a lot of alcohol or use illegal drugs before having sex
  • Know your status! Get tested regularly.


The standard treatment for HIV is a combination of antiretroviral medications. Antiretroviral medications slow the rate at which the virus multiplies. Taking these medications, as directed by your provider, can reduce the amount of virus in your blood and help you stay healthy.

The decision to start antiretroviral medication depends on your health, your lab results (CD4 count and viral load), and your symptoms. Starting medication is an individualized decision that should be discussed between the patient and the provider.

The lab values that will be monitored include:

  • Viral load – measures the amount of virus in your blood
  • CD4 count – white blood cells that fight infection; measures how well your immune system is working

Follow these healthy practices during treatment:

  • Eat a healthy, well-balanced diet; it helps keep immune system strong
  • Exercise on a regular basis; it helps reduce stress and improve your quality of life
  • Don’t  smoke; people with HIV are at higher risk for heart attack and lung cancer and smoking can increase these risks even more
  • Don’t use illegal drugs and limit your alcohol intake

It is important that you learn as much as you can about HIV infection and take an active role in your treatment. Your provider will be available to answer questions about HIV and find the best treatment plan for you. You may also want to consider joining an HIV support group, where members can share information and common experiences.

Resources for Patients:

AIDS Info- US Dept of Health and Human Services, latest treatment guidelines; other resources

The Body:The Complete HIV/AIDS Resource

Centers for Diseases Control

I-Base Pregnancy - A guide to HIV and pregnancy

Locations of Counseling, Testing & Referral Services in Nebraska

Mountain Plains AETC - Teaching resources; also National Hepatitis C Center of Excellence

Nebraska AIDS Project - Regional HIV-AIDS resource for HIV-infected persons, HIV prevention information, and HIV education

New Mexico AETC

Quit Now - Information about smoking cessation including free telephonic advice

Women, Children and HIV -  Lots of links and information on pregnancy and women's health