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What is HIV?

HIV (Human Immunodeficiency Virus) is a very small germ, called a virus, that you cannot see. AIDS (Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome) is a disease that develops later, after a person has been infected with HIV, the AIDS virus.

When a person becomes infected with HIV, the virus attacks the immune system, the part of your body that fights off infection. HIV slowly kills the cells of the immune system until the body can no longer defend itself against other infections. Most people who are infected do not get sick from their HIV for 5 to 10 years. But eventually the immune system cannot fight off common infections. Because HIV takes years to make someone sick, most people with HIV feel healthy and do not know they have it.

IMPORTANT: HIV can spread to others as soon as you are infected, even though you look and feel healthy. You cannot tell from looking at a person if he or she has HIV. The only way to know if you are infected is to get the HIV test.