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Basics of human immunodeficiency virus or HIV.

Read about general information on HIV, stages, and treatment.

What is HIV?

HIV stands for human immunodeficiency virus. It’s a virus that attacks cells in the immune system called T-cells. It’s the job of T-cells to help fight infections. Once infected with HIV, the virus stays in the body forever. Without treatment, the virus will keep attacking the immune system. This puts you at risk for infections and some cancers. If untreated, HIV can progress to acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS).

Are there treatments for HIV?

There is no cure for HIV, but there are treatments that help lower the amount of virus in the body. The medications are called antiretroviral therapy (ART). By keeping the amount of virus low, ART helps:

  • Your immune system stay stronger
  • Your body fight infections
  • Lower the risk of developing AIDS
  • Lower the risk of spreading HIV to others

It’s important to see a doctor and start an ART treatment plan as soon possible. It’s also important to take the medications exactly as your doctor tells you.

Like many medications, ART has possible side effects. These can include:

  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Dry mouth
  • Headache
  • Rash
  • Dizziness
  • Fatigue
  • Pain

If you are taking ART and have side effects, your doctor or CVS Specialty® CareTeam can help you manage them.

How can a person get HIV?

The HIV virus passes from person to person through bodily fluids like blood, semen, and rectal and vaginal fluids. The most common ways to get or pass on HIV are through:

  • Anal or vaginal sex
  • Sharing needles, syringes or other drug injection equipment like cookers

How does HIV progress?

HIV can progress through three stages:

  • Acute infection. The acute infection stage starts two to four weeks after contact with the virus. A person in this early stage may feel like they have the flu. Patients are very contagious because there is a lot of the virus in the body. Treatment should start as soon as possible.

If treatment starts late or the patient doesn’t get treated, HIV infection can progress to:

  • Clinical latency. During this stage, the virus is active but spreads slowly. Patients usually don’t feel sick or have any symptoms, but they can still pass the virus on to someone else. If a patient has not started ART, it may be started in this stage.

If the patient doesn’t get treated or stops treatment, HIV infection can progress to:

  • Acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS). AIDS is the third and last stage of HIV infection. Patients have low T-cell counts and are at risk for serious infections, including some that people without HIV rarely get. Symptoms may include weight loss, fever, chills, swollen lymph glands and weakness.

Can HIV be prevented?

There are two types of medications that may help prevent HIV infection and help prevent passing the virus to someone else. They are called PrEP and PEP. Read this article to learn more about PrEP and PEP.

What should I do if I have HIV?

Finding out you have HIV is life-changing and may be overwhelming. Know that you aren’t alone and many people with HIV are healthy and living well. There are ways to find support and learn how to best take care of yourself.

CVS Specialty can help get you started and answer questions about your HIV treatment plan. Our CareTeam can also connect you with financial resources to help you stay on therapy. Call us at 1-800-237-2767 to speak to a pharmacist or nurse specially trained in caring for HIV and sexual health.

This information is not a substitute for medical advice or treatment. Talk to your doctor or health care provider about your medical condition and prior to starting any new treatment. CVS Specialty assumes no liability whatsoever for the information provided or for any diagnosis or treatment made as a result, nor is it responsible for the reliability of the content.

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