HIV stands for Human Immunodeficiency Virus. HIV is a virus that weakens the body’s defense (immune) system until it can no longer fight off illnesses, such as pneumonia, tuberculosis, cancerous tumors and others. HIV attacks CD4 cells (T cells), which direct the body’s immune system to defend against infection. Unlike some other viruses, the human body can’t get rid of HIV completely, even with treatment.
A person is considered to have AIDS (Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome) when HIV seriously damages the immune system. In the U.S., an HIV-infected person receives a diagnosis of AIDS when his or her CD4 count is less than 200 or if diagnosed with a specific illness. (An average CD4 cell count in a healthy person is 1,150.)
No effective cure currently exists, but with proper medical care, HIV can be controlled.
HIV can only be transmitted through body fluids, like blood, semen, precum or pre-ejaculate fluid, rectal fluids, vaginal fluid and breast milk. The fluids must come in contact with a mucous membrane or damaged tissue (an open cut or wound) or be directly injected into the body (from a needle or a syringe) for transmission to occur. Mucous membranes are found inside the rectum, vagina, penis and mouth.
The most common ways HIV is passed are:
No. You cannot get HIV from an HIV-infected person by working together; playing sports; shaking hands; hugging; closed-mouth kissing; sharing drinking glasses, eating utensils or towels; using the same wash water, drinking fountain or toilet; swimming in the same pool; or coming into contact with the person’s sneezes, coughs, tears, or sweat. You also don’t get HIV from bug bites or by donating blood.
There is no cure for HIV or AIDS, but there are effective treatments for managing HIV. With proper medical care, HIV can be controlled. Treatment for HIV is called antiretroviral therapy or ART. If taken the right way, every day, ART can dramatically prolong the lives of many people infected with HIV, keep them healthy, and greatly lower their chance of infecting others. Before the introduction of ART in the mid-1990s, people with HIV could progress to AIDS (the last stage of HIV infection) in a few years. Today, someone diagnosed with HIV and treated before the disease is far advanced can live nearly as long as someone who does not have HIV.
While some report cold or flu-like symptoms, many people infected with HIV show no symptoms at all. The only way to know for sure whether you have HIV is to get tested. Knowing your status is important because it helps you make healthy decisions to prevent getting or transmitting HIV. HIV affects every one differently.
STI stands for sexually transmitted infections, which are passed from one person to another through intimate physical contact – such as heavy petting (skin to skin) – and from sexual activity including vaginal, oral, and anal sex. STIs are very common and usually treatable. You may not have any symptoms, but early detection and treatment is important, so get tested if you have engaged in unprotected (no condom) sexual activity.
Each STI has a different treatment, ranging from antibiotics to long-term prescribed medications. The good news is that each can be treated, and most cured. Identifying which STI, if any, you are at risk of is the first step to treatment.
Hepatitis C, which is also called hep C, viral hepatitis or HCV, is a serious and contagious liver disease that can cause liver damage, liver cancer or liver failure.
Hepatitis C is a blood-borne virus. Today, most people become infected with the hepatitis C virus by sharing needles or other equipment used to inject drugs. For 70%–85% of people who become infected with hepatitis C, it becomes a long-term, chronic infection. Most people infected with hepatitis C don’t know they are infected.
The most effective way to prevent hepatitis C is by avoiding behaviors that can spread the disease, especially injecting drugs.
For those at high risk for HIV, PrEP can significantly reduce your risk of HIV infection if taken daily. Daily PrEP use can lower the risk of getting HIV from sex by more than 90% and from injection drug use by more than 70%. You can combine additional strategies with PrEP to reduce your risk even further.
PrEP can cause side effects like nausea in some people, but these generally subside over time. No serious side effects have been observed, and these side effects aren’t life threatening.
PrEP is only for people who are HIV-negative and at ongoing very high risk of HIV infection. If you have been exposed to HIV within the last 72 hours, you can access PEP.
HIV Post-Exposure Prophylaxis (PEP): Use of antiretroviral medication after an isolated HIV exposure or high-risk event in an attempt to stop HIV replication and establishment of infection
If you believe you have been exposed to HIV, call Allies for Health + Wellbeing to begin your PEP treatment immediately or access an emergency room near you.