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HIV AIDS - acquired immunodeficiency syndrome - was first reported in the United States in 1981 and has since become a major worldwide epidemic AIDS is caused by the human immunodeficiency virus HIV By killing or damaging cells of the bodys immune system HIV progressively destroys the bodys ability to fight infections and certain cancers People diagnosed with AIDS may get life-threatening diseases called opportunistic infections which are caused by microbes such as viruses or bacteria that usually do not make healthy people sick More than 700000 cases of AIDS have been reported in the United States since 1981 and as many as 900000 Americans may be infected with HIV The epidemic is growing most rapidly among minority populations and is a leading killer of African-American males According to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention AIDS affects nearly seven times more African Americans than whites and three times more Hispanics than whites How is HIV transmitted HIV is spread most commonly by having unprotected sex with an infected partner The virus can enter the body through the lining of the vagina vulva penis rectum or mouth during sex HIV also is spread through contact with infected blood Before donated blood was screened for evidence of HIV infection and before heat-treating techniques to destroy HIV in blood products were introduced HIV was transmitted through transfusions of contaminated blood or blood components Today because of blood screening and heat treatment the risk of getting HIV from such transfusions is extremely small HIV frequently is spread among injection drug users by the sharing of needles or syringes contaminated with very small quantities of blood from someone infected with the virus It is rare however for a patient to give HIV to a health care worker or vice-versa by accidental sticks with contaminated needles or other medical instruments Women
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