Human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) is the virus that causes acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS). HIV works to gradually destroy the body’s ability to fight off infection and cancer, so it may take anywhere from a few months to several years before someone with HIV develops AIDS. There is no cure for HIV, but several therapies are available that help prolong the health and strength of the immune system, thus delaying infections and cancers from developing. HIV can be transmitted by the sharing of needles, anal, oral and vaginal sex, from mother to baby during pregnancy, during birth and through breastfeeding.

It is fairly common for those infected with HIV to not experience any symptoms at all shortly after contracting the disease. Within the first few weeks, others may experience flu-like symptoms including headaches, achiness, fatigue, swollen glands, fever and sore throat. It can take years for physical signs of infection to surface. These physical signs can include all the symptoms listed above, plus persistent yeast infections of the mouth and/or vagina, skin rashes, short-term memory loss, weight loss and excessive sweating.

Pregnant women who are HIV-positive, particularly those who live in developing countries, are at an increased risk of preterm birth and stillbirth. Without treatment, a baby has a 25% chance of becoming infected while in the womb, when born or while being breastfed. This risk can be reduced to 2% if pregnant women who have HIV get proper treatment, take the appropriate medications, properly monitor their condition and do not breastfeed. Approximately 6,000 HIV-positive women give birth each year in the United States, but thanks to new, powerful medications the Western world is redefining how HIV-positive pregnancies are treated. As a result only a few hundred babies are infected annually.

The number of babies who are infected with HIV annually has the potential to drop even further if more women tested themselves prior to conceiving a child. Most major public health services now recommend that all pregnant women be tested during their first prenatal appointment. If you are pregnant and HIV positive, make sure you are getting the appropriate prenatal care, testing and/or treatments you need.

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