Infectious Diseases: Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) Infection
What do the terms HIV and AIDS mean?
HIV (human immunodeficiency virus) and AIDS (acquired immunodeficiency syndrome) are often spoken of as the same, but they are not:
- HIV is a virus that attacks the body’s immune system and weakens its ability to fight off infection.
- AIDS is an advanced stage of HIV infection in which the immune system is so weak that patients are likely to get infections and/or cancers that typically do not affect people with normal immune systems.
- So, while every patient with AIDS has an HIV infection, not all HIV-infected patients have AIDS. Early diagnosis and treatment of HIV infection can prevent patients from getting AIDS.
How do children and youth get HIV infection?
- HIV is spread person to person through contact with blood and certain other bodily fluids.
- Most HIV-infected children acquire infection from their HIV-infected mothers before or at the time of delivery. In HIV-infected mothers who have access to HIV care and take medicines, the chances of the baby getting infected are low (less than 1 in 100).
- Sexually active teens can acquire infection by engaging in unprotected sex. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) notes that about one in four new HIV infections in the United States is in youth 13 to 24 years of age. Using barrier protection, such as a condom, not only prevents HIV infection but also prevents other sexually transmitted diseases, such as syphilis, Hepatitis B and gonorrhea.
- HIV is not spread by shaking hands, touching or other causal contact with an HIV-infected patient.
What are the symptoms of HIV infection in children and youth?
- Most HIV-infected patients have no symptoms for months to years.
- Every pregnant woman should be offered an HIV test; all children born to HIV-infected women should receive medicines to prevent HIV infection and should have follow-up testing for HIV infection.
- The CDC recommends that everyone between the ages of 13 and 64 should be tested at least once for HIV, regardless of whether they have symptoms.
- Some HIV-infected children may have pneumonia or failure to gain weight.
- Some youth may have a brief “mono-like illness” with fever, sore throat and swollen neck glands in the days following infection.
How is HIV infection diagnosed in children and youth?
- Children born to HIV-infected mothers are followed closely and blood tests done to ensure that they are not HIV-infected.
- In youth and adults in the United States, HIV infection can be diagnosed with simple, easily accessible blood or oral swab tests. Quick, easy and free, HIV tests are available through the health department and other community agencies. Every effort should be made to help people become aware of their diagnosis and to get treatment.
How is HIV infection in children and youth treated?
- There are many medicines available to treat HIV. These medicines are called antiretrovirals (ARVs) and may be combined, sometimes in one pill to be taken once a day. The treatment is similar to the treatment of other chronic diseases such as diabetes or high blood pressure. Until a cure for HIV is found, antiretroviral therapy (ART) must be taken as prescribed.
- Like people with other chronic diseases, HIV-infected patients who are in care and receiving treatment are living longer, healthier lives.
When was the St. Jude HIV program started and what does it offer?
In 1987, St. Jude founder Danny Thomas declared AIDS a catastrophic disease of children. It was then that HIV/AIDS became a research priority of St. Jude. Since that time, the St. Jude Department of Infectious Diseases has developed a broad, multidisciplinary pediatric program called the Pediatric AIDS Clinical Trials Unit (PACTU), which has been designated a "Center of Excellence" by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. The St. Jude HIV program for children and youth includes the following:
- A broad, dedicated team: The staff consists of doctors, nurse practitioners, nurses, social workers, pharmacists, a psychiatrist, a psychologist, a chaplain and a Child Life specialist. All of these people specialize in pediatric and youth-specific issues.
- Continuity of HIV care: HIV-infected patients from birth through 21 years of age are accepted in the program and are provided the latest, recommended HIV care. Patients are supported through 24 years of age and then transition to an adult care provider of the patient’s choice. A health care provider can refer an HIV-infected child or youth to St. Jude using one of the contact methods listed on the patient referral website.
- A respected research program: The St. Jude HIV program is a well-recognized research center and takes part in numerous National Institutes of Health (NIH) and pharmaceutical industry studies. Supported by the NIH, St. Jude is a site for the International Maternal Pediatric Adolescent AIDS Clinical Trials Network (IMPAACT), the Adolescent Trials Network (ATN) and the Pediatric HIV/AIDS Cohort Study (PHACS).
- Clinical trials: Through clinical trials, patients in the St. Jude HIV program have access to cutting-edge research including new drugs in development.
- A commitment to the community: The St. Jude HIV clinical staff is committed to the cause of HIV education and prevention in the community. Our doctors, nurse practitioners and social workers provide HIV education and prevention presentations throughout the community and local school system.
For more information about HIV in the Memphis community, visit: www.hivmemphis.org
The St. Jude Web site is designed for educational purposes only and is not engaged in rendering medical advice or professional services. The information provided through this site should not be used for diagnosing or treating a health problem or a disease. It is not a substitute for professional care. If you have or suspect you may have a health problem, you should consult your health care provider.