HIV Infection and AIDS

Also known as: Acquired Immune Deficiency syndrome (AIDS); Human Immunodeficiency Virus


Infection with the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) results in progressive destruction of the immune system. As a result of this, an infected individual becomes susceptible to a number of different infections. The Acquired Immune Deficiency syndrome (AIDS) is a clinical definition. An HIV positive individual is described as having AIDS if they develop one or more of the complications associated with the deteriorating immune system.


Medical text written November 1995 by Dr J Evans, Paediatric HIV Team, St Mary’s Hospital, London UK. Last updated December 2011 by Dr M Sharland, Consultant Paediatrician in Paediatric Infectious diseases and HIV, St George’s Hospital, London, UK.

What are the symptoms?

The complications of HIV infection and the ways infected children may present are numerous and extremely variable. All the systems of the body may be involved including the gastro-intestinal tract, the lungs and the nervous system. They are also prone to develop recurrent infections and some malignancies.

What are the causes?

HIV can be transmitted by unprotected sexual intercourse, both homosexual and heterosexual, by the administration of contaminated blood products and by contact with infected needles. HIV infected women can also pass the infection to their unborn children. This may occur while the baby is in utero (in the womb), at the time of delivery, or transmitted by breast milk.

How is it diagnosed?

HIV is diagnosed by the presence of antibodies against the HIV virus in the blood. In some cases, tests are only sensitive enough to detect antibodies a few months after the risk of infection.

How is it treated?

Current knowledge now encourages HIV testing during pregnancy. Combination antiretroviral therapy in pregnancy and bottle-feeding has reduced the chance of a baby being infected from over 20 per cent down to less than one per cent.

The outlook for children born with the virus has dramatically improved with the introduction of combination antiretroviral therapy. Using a combination of three types of antiretroviral therapy has also led to an improved outcome for infected children.

Most children receiving antiretroviral drugs to reduce the effect of the virus remain very well, attend school and lead normal lives apart from taking medication every day. Children with HIV should receive the normal schedule of vaccinations apart from BCG (a vaccine against tuberculosis).

Inheritance patterns and prenatal diagnosis

Inheritance patterns
None. However, the disease may be passed from mother to child during pregnancy or birth.

Prenatal diagnosis
All women are now actively encouraged to have an HIV test in pregnancy as part of routine clinical care. Postnatal tests are available for babies born to HIV positive women.

Is there support?

Waverley Care

Tel: 0131 558 1425
Email: via website

Waverley Care is a Registered Charity in Scotland No. SC036500. It provides information, support and services to people in Scotland who are living with HIV or Hepatitis C, including services for children, young people and families. 

Group details last updated January 2016.

Other organisations providing excellent support and information covering HIV Infection/AIDS but not specially geared to children are listed below:

Positively UK

Helpline: 020 7713 0444

The Organisation is a Registered Charity in England and Wales No. 1007685. It provides peer-led support, advocacy and information to women, men and young people living with HIV. 

Group details last updated December 2014.

Terrence Higgins Trust (THT)

Helpline: 0808 802 1221

The Trust is a Registered Charity in England and Wales No. 288527. It provides information and support to anyone living with, affected by, or concerned about HIV and other sexually transmitted infections. The Trust runs services from its centres across the UK. 

Group details last updated December 2014.

Back to A-Z Conditions