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“The only thing necessary for these diseases to the triumph is for good people and governments to do nothing.”

AIDS Fact Sheet

Peer Review Status: Internally Reviewed by Cancer Center Staff
First Published: July 1999
Last Revised: July 1999


  • the letters "AIDS" stand for Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome

The Cause

  • The Human Immunodeficiency virus (HIV) is a virus (germ) that attacks certain types of white blood cells in human blood.
  • this virus attacks a person's immune system and damages their ability to fight off some diseases
  • without a functioning immune system to ward off other germs, the person is vulnerable to several infections caused by bacteria, fungi, other viruses, and malignancies. These may cause life-threatening illnesses.
  • some of the most common illnesses are pneumonia, meningitis, and tuberculosis
  • individual may also develop certain types of cancers such as Kaposi's sarcoma, lymphomas, Hodgkin's disease, and multiple basal cell carcinoma


  • Many people with HIV have no symptoms and may not realize they are infected. For those individuals who do have symptoms, they may include:
  • unexplained, persistent fatigue
  • unexplained fever, night sweats, or shaking chills that last for several weeks or more
  • sudden and unexplained weight loss of more than 10 pounds
  • diarrhea that continues for several weeks
  • a dry cough that will not go away, often associated with shortness of breath
  • purple or pink spots or bumps on or under the skin, inside the mouth, nose, or around the eyes; these spots are generally harder than the skin around them and persist for more than six weeks
  • white spots around or in the mouth that last for weeks
  • swollen glands (in neck, groin, armpits) that last for several months

Many of these symptoms are similar to those of the common cold, the flu, and other illnesses. The difference is the severity and the length of time that they last.

If you have any concerns about symptoms you may have, you should see your personal physician or another physician who is knowledgeable about HIV/AIDS immediately.

How AIDS is Spread

  • Sexual Intercourse (vaginal, anal, and possibly oral) with an infected person
  • Blood Contamination (for example, sharing needles for intravenous drug abuse)
  • Mother to Child (during pregnancy, during birth, and during breast feeding)

You Do Not Get AIDS From:

  • touching, social kissing, coughing, or sneezing
  • contact with eating utensils, water fountains, toilet seats, telephones, typewriters, etc.
  • teardrops, saliva, or sweat
  • using facilities such as public swimming pools, restrooms, or gymnasiums
  • being close to other people such as on a crowded bus, in a classroom, or restaurant
  • mosquitoes
  • sharing bed linens, towels, cups, straws, dishes, or other eating utensils


  • infection results from a sexual relationship with an infected person
  • people who share needles while using street drugs are at greatest risk of exposure and infection

No Known Cure

There is presently no cure for AIDS and at present no vaccine to prevent AIDS


A number of antiviral drugs are available to treat HIV. The drugs fall into three main classes:

  1. Nucleoside reverse transcriptase inhibitors
  2. Non-nucleoside reverse transcriptase inhibitors, and<
  3. Protease inhibitors

These three classes of drugs attack HIV at different stages in the cell's life cycle. People with HIV are given a combination of drugs from different classes for maximum benefit.



  • protect yourself or your partner by using a condom during sexual intercourse
  • if you or a partner are at risk, avoid mouth contact with the penis, vagina, or rectum
  • avoid all sexual activities which could cause cuts or tears in the linings of the rectum, vagina, or penis
  • if you have had unprotected intercourse with more than one person and/or your sexual partner has had unprotected sex with more than one person, have a blood test to see if you have been infected with the AIDS virus
  • do not share intravenous drug equipment