For Teens: Understanding HIV/AIDS

HIV weakens the parts of the body that fight off disease (the immune system). It spreads through body fluids passed during sex, or through infected needles. When HIV begins to cause severe health problems, it’s called AIDS. There’s no cure for HIV or AIDS. But treatment called antiretrovial therapy can help you stay healthier longer.

Boy talking to health care provider at reception desk. What to look for

It may take years for AIDS symptoms to appear. But a few weeks after HIV enters the body, you may have symptoms such as:

  • Fever

  • Sore throat

  • Trouble swallowing

  • Headaches

  • Muscle and joint aches

  • Rash

  • Fatigue

These symptoms may last for a few days to several weeks, and seem like the flu. So if you’re at risk of HIV, get tested. It’s the only way to know for sure. HIV testing is available at most health clinics. You can also learn more about testing by calling CDC-INFO at 800-232-4636.

Antiretroviral therapy

Antiretroviral therapy involved using several different HIV drugs that work in different ways to control the virus and protect your immune system. HIV and AIDS can’t be cured, but these medications can help you live a more active life. Some medications help the body resist diseases. Others reduce symptoms. If you have HIV, you must practice safer sex to protect others. This means always using latex condoms during any kind of sex. It also means telling your partner you have HIV before having sex.

If you don’t get treated

Over time, AIDS and HIV weaken the body. This makes it easier for you to get sick and have:

  • Diarrhea and weight loss

  • Night sweats

  • Itchy rash

  • Skin lesions

  • Chronic cough

  • Confusion

  • Trouble breathing

  • Swollen glands and thrush (white spots in the mouth)

  • Lung infections such as pneumonia or meningitis (brain infection). Some infections can lead to death.


Stop the spread of HIV. ALWAYS use latex condoms. If you are at risk for HIV, get tested. And if you have HIV, tell your partner before sex.