Today is National HIV Testing Day.

HIV stands for human immunodeficiency virus. If left untreated, HIV can lead to the disease AIDS (acquired immunodeficiency syndrome).

Unlike some other viruses, the human body can’t get rid of HIV completely. So once a person has HIV, they have it for life.

HIV attacks the body’s immune system, specifically the CD4 cells (T cells), which help the immune system fight off infections. If left untreated, HIV reduces the number of CD4 cells (T cells) in the body, making the person more likely to get infections or infection-related cancers. Over time, HIV can destroy so many of these cells that the body can’t fight off infections and disease. These opportunistic infections or cancers take advantage of a very weak immune system and signal that the person has AIDS, the last state of HIV infection.

No effective cure for HIV currently exists, but with proper treatment and medical care, HIV can be controlled. The medicine used to treat HIV is called antiretroviral therapy or ART. If taken the right way, every day, this medicine can dramatically prolong the lives of many people with HIV, keep them healthy, and greatly lower their chance of transmitting the virus to others. Today, a person who is diagnosed with HIV, treated before the disease is far advanced, and who stays on treatment, can live a nearly as long as someone who does not have HIV.

The only way to know for sure if a person has HIV is to get tested. Testing is relatively simple. Interested persons can ask their health care provider for an HIV test. Many medical clinics, substance abuse programs, community health centers, and hospitals offer them too. People can also buy a home testing kit at a pharmacy or online.

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