The Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) targets the immune system and weakens people's surveillance and defense systems against infections and some types of cancer. As the virus destroys and impairs the function of immune cells, infected individuals gradually become immunodeficient. Immune function is typically measured by CD4 cell count. Immunodeficiency results in increased susceptibility to a wide range of infections and diseases that people with healthy immune systems can fight off.
The most advanced stage of HIV infection is Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome (AIDS), which can take from 2 to 15 years to develop depending on the individual. AIDS is defined by the development of certain cancers, infections, or other severe clinical manifestations.
Behaviours and conditions that put individuals at greater risk of contracting HIV include:
• having unprotected anal or vaginal sex;
• having another sexually transmitted infection such as syphilis, herpes, chlamydia, gonorrhoea, and bacterial vaginosis;
• sharing contaminated needles, syringes and other injecting equipment and drug solutions when injecting drugs;
• receiving unsafe injections, blood transfusions, medical procedures that involve unsterile cutting or piercing; and
• experiencing accidental needle stick injuries, including among health workers
For more information see the WHO HIV/AIDS factsheetWorld Health Organization