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HIV is a viral infection that affects the immune system, making individuals susceptible to infections and diseases. Credit: Servier

HIV: Understanding the Virus, Transmission, and Prevention


HIV (Human Immunodeficiency Virus) is a viral infection that attacks the immune system, making individuals vulnerable to other infections and diseases. We take a deep look at the transmission, symptoms, treatment, and prevention of HIV.

What is HIV?

HIV is a virus that attacks the body’s immune system, specifically targeting CD4 cells (T cells), which play a crucial role in fighting infections. Over time, HIV can weaken the immune system, leading to acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS) if left untreated.

Transmission of HIV:

  1. Unprotected Sexual Contact: HIV can be transmitted through vaginal, anal, or oral sex with an infected person, especially if no barrier methods such as condoms are used.
  2. Sharing Needles or Syringes: HIV can be transmitted through sharing needles or syringes contaminated with infected blood, commonly associated with drug use.
  3. Mother-to-Child Transmission: An HIV-positive mother can transmit the virus to her child during pregnancy, childbirth, or breastfeeding. However, with proper medical interventions, the risk of transmission can be significantly reduced.

Symptoms and Stages of HIV:

  1. Acute HIV Infection: Shortly after contracting the virus, some individuals may experience flu-like symptoms such as fever, fatigue, swollen lymph nodes, and rash. However, many people do not exhibit any noticeable symptoms during this stage.
  2. Clinical Latency: After the initial stage, HIV enters a period of clinical latency, where the virus continues to replicate but at a slower rate. During this stage, individuals may not experience any symptoms or may have mild, nonspecific symptoms.
  3. AIDS: Without treatment, HIV can progress to AIDS, the most advanced stage of the infection. At this stage, the immune system is severely compromised, making individuals susceptible to opportunistic infections and certain cancers.

HIV Testing, Treatment, and Prevention:

  1. HIV Testing: Testing for HIV is essential for early detection and to initiate appropriate medical care. Tests can be done at healthcare facilities, community centers, or through home testing kits.
  2. Antiretroviral Therapy (ART): ART is the recommended treatment for HIV. It involves taking a combination of antiretroviral medications daily to suppress the virus, improve immune function, and prevent the progression to AIDS.
  3. Prevention Methods: Preventing HIV transmission involves a combination of strategies, including practicing safe sex by using condoms, avoiding sharing needles or syringes, and getting tested regularly. Pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) is also available for individuals at high risk of contracting HIV.


HIV is a viral infection that affects the immune system, making individuals susceptible to infections and diseases. Understanding how HIV is transmitted, its stages, and the available treatment options is crucial for prevention and early intervention. HIV testing, access to antiretroviral therapy, practicing safe sex, and avoiding needle sharing are vital steps in reducing HIV transmission. By raising awareness, promoting prevention methods, and providing support to individuals living with HIV, we can work towards a future free from the burden of HIV/AIDS.


MBChB (MUK), Graduate Fellow, Department of Physiology, Makerere University Founder and Content Creator Peer reviewer, Associate Editor

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