AIDS, 'acquired immunodeficiency syndrome', is a disease of the immune system caused by the 'human immunodeficiency virus' (HIV), which attacks the body's immune system, it may also attack the nervous system and affect the skin.
AIDS is the final stage of HIV infection, when your body can no longer fight life-threatening infections. With early diagnosis and effective treatment, most people with HIV will not go on to develop AIDS.
During the initial infection a person may experience symptoms similar to flu for a short time. This is followed by a prolonged period without symptoms. As the illness progresses it interferes more and more with the immune system, making people much more likely to get infections that do not usually affect people with working immune systems.
HIV is transmitted via unprotected sexual intercourse including anal and oral sex, contaminated blood transfusions, using infected hypodermic needles, from mother to child during pregnancy, child delivery and breastfeeding. Some bodily fluids such as saliva and tears do not transmit HIV.
Prevention of HIV infection through safe sex and hypodermic needle exchange programs is a key strategy to control the spread of the disease. There is no cure, but antiretroviral treatment can slow the course of the disease and may lead to a near normal life expectancy. Though antiretroviral treatment reduces the risk of death and complications from the disease, these medications are expensive and may be associated with side effects.
If you think you have put yourself at risk of HIV, you should seek medical advice and have a test as soon as possible. The earlier HIV is diagnosed, the earlier you can start treatment and avoid becoming ill.
HIV/AIDS Organizations in the United Kingdom - TheBody.com
National AIDS Trust
Terence Higgins Trust
George House Trust