HIV Basics


Knowing Is Protection

FAQs

It’s not uncommon to be a little nervous about any medical test. Put yourself at ease by familiarizing yourself with the process of an HIV test using the information toggles below to learn the basic facts about HIV.

 

What is HIV?

HIV is the Human Immunodeficiency Virus. It is a virus that gets into a person’s cells. HIV affects the immune system, specifically the T-Cells or CD4 cells which fight infection. Simply put, the virus destroys the T-cells so that the immune system of a person with untreated HIV infection is not able to fight off diseases and infections.

What is AIDS?

AIDS stands for Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome. AIDS is caused by HIV and is a late stage of infection. A person can live many years with the Human Immunodeficiency Virus in his or her system without experiencing any symptoms. When enough T-cells have been destroyed to severely compromise the body’s ability to fight infection and disease, a person’s diagnosis progresses to AIDS.

How HIV is transmitted?

HIV is transmitted through the following bodily fluids:

  • Blood
  • Semen
  • Pre-seminal fluid (pre-cum)
  • Breast Milk
  • Vaginal fluids
  • Anal mucous

When you have sex with someone who is HIV-positive (infected with HIV) the virus can enter your system through small tears in your vagina, anus, penis or – rarely – your mouth. Open sores caused by sexually-transmitted diseases (STDs) such as herpes and syphilis can make it easier for HIV to enter your system.

If you inject drugs, HIV can be transmitted when your blood comes into contact with another person’s blood through sharing needles. HIV can pass from mother to child while a woman is pregnant, gives birth or through breast milk. Effective screening has made HIV infection via blood transfusion or organ donation extremely rare.

HIV is NOT transmitted through the following bodily fluids:

  • Saliva
  • Vomit
  • Feces
  • Nasal
  • fluid
  • Tears
  • Sweat
  • Urine

How to Prevent Infection

There is no cure or vaccine for HIV. However, HIV is treatable and preventable.

Here’s how you can minimize your risk for infection:

Use condoms: If you have multiple sexual partners and you are not sure of your own or your partners’ HIV status, always use a condom during vaginal and anal intercourse. Condoms are highly effective in preventing HIV transmission.

Use clean needles: If you inject drugs, use new, sterile needles.

Discuss sexual histories: Knowing the HIV status of your partner or partners will enable you to take steps to prevent transmission, like using condoms. About 2,800 people who are infected in the Netherlands don’t know it. Get tested together.

Be mindful of the combination of sex and drugs: if you are drinking or taking drugs, you are less likely to practice safer sex and use condoms. If you feel like you may have a drug or alcohol problem, seek help.

Get tested for other STDs: Having a sexually-transmitted disease (STD)—such as Chlamydia, gonorrhea or syphilis—can increase your risk of getting infected with HIV. Many STDs do not have obvious symptoms.

There is no cure or vaccine for HIV. However, HIV is treatable and preventable.

Symptoms

Many people with HIV do not experience any systems until the late stages of the disease. In fact, the virus can live in your body for as many as 10 years – or more – without causing any obvious symptoms. Extreme fatigue, diarrhea, nausea, vomiting, fever and wasting syndrome can be some of the symptoms experienced at the late stages –when the disease has progressed to AIDS. These symptoms are most often caused by the opportunistic infections that a weakened immune system has been unable to fight off.

Acute infection – In the first 2 weeks to 30 days after infection—when higher levels of the virus are in a person’s system and he or she is most able to pass the virus on to others —some may experience severe flu-like symptoms. It’s important to remember that not everyone who gets infected experiences these symptoms. If you experience these symptoms and have had recent unprotected sex, get tested.

If you are HIV-positive

While HIV infection is a serious condition, it is important to remember that it is very treatable. Many people with HIV and AIDS live long, healthy, productive lives. HIV is no longer a “death sentence.” Since 1995, there have been medications known as anti-retroviral treatment that effectively combat the virus. In fact, the treatment is so effective that the majority of people who consistently take their medications don’t have a detectable level of virus in their system.

Treatment as prevention

Being on treatment is not only beneficial for your own health. It also greatly reduces the chance that the virus is transmitted to another individual. This is another strong reason to start treatment immediately after diagnosis. When you have an undetectable viral load, you can protect your sexual partners from acquiring HIV in this way, so HIV treatment is a powerful prevention tool.