The human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) is a contagious, chronic disease that causes the progressive destruction of immune cells within your body. As this disease evolves into its more severe form (acquired immune deficiency syndrome, AIDS), you can develop symptoms of fatigue, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, night sweats or wasting syndrome. There are three predominate ways in which you can get HIV: sexual contact, injection drug use or vertical transmission.
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If you engage in certain sexual activities with a person who has HIV, you are at an increased risk of contracting this virus. HIV is transmitted through body fluids, such as blood, vaginal fluids, pre-seminal fluid and semen. While participating in oral, vaginal or anal sexual intercourse the protective mucous membranes within these body regions can become damaged. Small tears within the tissue of the vagina, anus or mouth caused during sexual intercourse with a person who has HIV can allow this infection to enter your bloodstream. A sexually transmitted disease (STD), such as gonorrhea and chlamydia, can cause the tissue that lines your penis or vagina, mouth or rectum to be more susceptible to infection due to the presence of STD-related skin lesions or sores. If you have an STD and engage in sexual intercourse with an HIV-infected person, the infection can be transmitted through the skin lesions into your bloodstream.
Injection Drug Use
HIV infection can be transmitted through shared blood fluids. When you inject drug substances into your body, the needle retains a small amount of blood fluid. If you share used drug needles with a person who has HIV, you can become infected by this virus. Other drug-related paraphernalia, including cookers, bottle caps, spoons, cotton or filters can also become contaminated if exposed to the blood of a person with HIV. Sharing these contaminated items can also cause you to become infected by HIV, warn health professionals at AIDS, a website managed by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
An HIV infection that is passed from a mother to her child is called vertical transmission. A mother who is infected with this virus while she is pregnant can pass HIV to her infant during pregnancy, labor or delivery, explains AVERT, an international AIDS charity website. A mother who contracts HIV after giving birth can still transmit this infection to her child through her breast milk while breastfeeding.