HIV infection is a lifelong illness. There is no known cure, but, advances in treatment have changed the view that HIV is a fatal disease. Doctors now consider HIV a chronic condition that can be controlled with medications and healthy lifestyle choices.

The average time for HIV infection to progress to AIDS is 10 to 11 years for people who do not take anti-retrovirals. In people with very high HIV viral load, AIDS may develop sooner (within five years). Once HIV infection has progressed to AIDS, there is an increased risk of death that varies dramatically from person to person. For example, some people with AIDS have died shortly after they were diagnosed, whereas others have lived 12 years or more.

Because very potent medications against HIV have only been available since 1996, we do not yet know how long people can live with HIV infection if they are tested early and treated appropriately. The outlook, however, is very good, especially for those who begin anti-retrovirals at an early stage of the disease. The AIDS-related death rate in some parts of the developing world, however, remains staggeringly high due to lack of access to life-saving anti-retrovirals.

If you are infected with HIV, it is best to find out as soon as possible so that treatment can be started before the immune system is weakened. Since potent antiretrovirals became available in the United States, the number of AIDS-related deaths and hospitalizations has decreased dramatically.

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