Anonymous on November 11, 2011

What are the effects of HIV on the body?

I don’t think I have HIV…but if I did and I didn’t get tested, what are the effects of HIV on the body?

answered by Lisa Oldson, MD on November 11, 2011

That’s a great question. And I can understand your concern ⎼ many people are nervous about getting tested for human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) and other sexually transmitted diseases (STDs).

But I want you to know that there is very little to worry about when it comes to HIV testing. Most people who get screened for HIV don’t end up being positive. And those who do are able to begin treatment and start making informed decisions for their health right away. They’re also able to make responsible choices with their partners to prevent transmitting HIV to someone else. And remember that with treatment, HIV can be managed so that people who are HIV-positive can live healthy and high quality lives.

That said, you asked about the effects of untreated HIV on the body.

After HIV enters the body – often in blood, vaginal secretions or semen from an infected sexual partner – the virus begins to replicate. If untreated, the virus then lives in the body and attacks a particular type of white blood cell called a CD4+ T-cell. Although a person may not have any noticeable symptoms of HIV for up to 10 years after infection, HIV continues to live in the body and damages the CD4+ T-cells.

Over time, without treatment, HIV will damage enough T-cells that the body can no longer fight off infections and other illnesses well. That’s when doctors say someone with HIV also has acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS). Unfortunately, AIDS can be fatal.

With that in mind, I encourage you again to get screened for HIV. It’s easy and it can help you get on the right track for your health. To learn more about how to get screened for HIV you can read more in our Expert Guide to HIV.

I hope this helped clear up some of your questions about the effects of HIV on the body. Thanks for writing and I wish you the best of health.

Lisa Oldson, MD

Dr. Oldson is Medical Director of the Analyte Physicians Group. She is on staff at Northwestern Memorial Hospital, as well as Clinical Instructor at the Feinberg School of Medicine, Northwestern University. Her areas of expertise include STDs (with a particular clinical emphasis on herpes), women's health, preventive medicine, diabetes, obesity and weight management, and mood and anxiety disorders. Dr. Oldson was educated at Rush Medical College and completed her residency at Rush-Presbyterian-St. Luke's Medical Center in Chicago, IL.

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