HIV

1. What is happening in a person’s body when they are HIV-positive?

The immune system fights disease in the body. The HIV (Human Immunodeficiency Virus) attacks the immune system, more specifically the CD4 cells, which are essential to helping the body fight diseases.  The body is unable to fight off disease and it is more likely to get any number of infections and diseases.

 2. What is the difference between HIV & AIDS?

HIV is the virus that causes AIDS . If  a person carries HIV, they have contracted the disease but may not show any symptoms. A person with HIV is immediately contagious to other people. AIDS is the late stage of HIV infection, when a person’s immune system is severely damaged and has difficulty fighting diseases and certain cancers.

3. What are the ways that HIV is spread?

  • Through sexual (oral, anal, or vaginal) contact with another person
  • Through sharing needles to inject intravenous drugs
  • From mother to child during pregnancy, birth and/or breast feeding
  • Contact with infected body fluids: blood, semen, vaginal secretions, breast milk (Note: Any infected body fluid becomes disabled when it dries.)

4. What is the typical course of the disease?

Within 2 to 4 weeks after infection with HIV, a person can experience an illness (acute stage) which is often described as the worst flu ever. This is the body’s natural response to the HIV infection. Flu-like symptoms include: fatigue, weight loss, diarrhea; these symptoms will disappear over time. After the acute stage, the disease moves into a stage called clinical latency, sometimes called  asymptomatic HIV infection. During this phase, HIV reproduces at very low levels, but is still active. This period can last up to 8 years or longer. Some people progress through this stage faster than others. Months or years later the following ailments can take over the body: pneumonia, tumors, lesions, cancer, etc. As the number of CD4 cells begins to fall below 200 cells per cubic milliliter of blood, a person is diagnosed as having AIDS. Without treatment, a person diagnosed with AIDS typically survives about 3 years. Once someone has a dangerous opportunistic infection, life expectancy falls to about one year. (Source: https://www.cdc.gov/hiv/basics/whatishiv.html)

5. What are ways that a person cannot get HIV or how is HIV not spread?

You cannot contract HIV from: sneezes, coughs, toilet seats, sharing clothes or towels, bug bites, hugging, or being friends with an infected person.  It is passed in blood and body fluids from an infected person. (Source: https://www.cdc.gov/hiv/basics/transmission.html)

6. Can you contract HIV from kissing?

Kissing is a low risk activity. If an infected person had blood in their saliva (from a cut or sore) and the other person also had a cut, there is a small possibility that the virus could be transmitted. (Source: https://www.cdc.gov/hiv/basics/transmission.html)

7. Can you get HIV from just one sexual encounter with an infected person?

Infection can happen through one sexual encounter.

8.  If a person is HIV-positive, but looks and feels healthy, can they transmit the virus?           

Yes, once a person has contracted HIV they will always be a carrier of the virus.

9. If you already have an STI, are you more at risk for contracting HIV?

Yes, having a sexually transmitted disease/infection can increase a person’s risk of becoming infected with HIV. If the STD infection causes irritation of the skin, breaks, or sores, this can  make it easier for HIV to enter the body during sexual contact.  A person infected with another STD/STI is three to five times more likely to transmit HIV through sexual contact. (Source: https://www.cdc.gov/hiv/basics/transmission.html)

10. Is HIV/AIDS treatable?

There is still no cure for HIV/AIDS. Antiretroviral medications are allowing people to live longer. Pregnant woman are given medication to prevent transmission of HIV to their baby, and newborn babies can also be given medication to reduce the risk. A complex regimen of medicine can prolong the lives of those infected with HIV for many years.

11. How can HIV/AIDS be prevented?

According to the CDC (the government agency created to protect Americans from diseases), the best way to prevent HIV/AIDS is to abstain from sexual activity. Condoms, if used correctly and consistently, can reduce the risk of contracting HIV. Medication known as PrEP can also reduce the risk of infections for those who have elevated HIV risk (Source: https://www.cdc.gov/hiv/basics/prep.html).