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What is HIV?

HIV (human immunodeficiency virus) is the virus that can lead to AIDS (acquired immune deficiency syndrome). HIV attacks your body's immune system, making it harder for you to fight other infections. Without treatment, HIV can progress to AIDS in just a few years. A person with AIDS has a severely damaged immune system and is unable to fight diseases and certain cancers.

The immune system has CD4 cells or T cells that help the body fight infections. After it enters the bloodstream, HIV destroys these CD4 cells and this process continues until the number of CD4 cells you have left is so low that it begins to affect your overall health. As a result of a compromised immune system, people with AIDS often develop infections of the lungs, brain, eyes, and other organs, and they frequently suffer dangerous weight loss, diarrhea, and a type of cancer called Kaposi's sarcoma.