HIV stands for Human Immunodeficiency Virus. It’s similar to other viruses, such as those that cause colds and the flu, with one important difference — the human body cannot get rid of HIV. That means if you get HIV, you get it for life.
Many people don’t realize they have HIV because they feel fine. However, HIV attacks the cells which normally defend the body against illness (called T-cells or CD4 cells), eventually leading to a weakened immune system. If someone is infected with HIV and doesn’t get medical treatment, HIV can destroy so many CD4 cells that the body can’t fight infections and diseases anymore. When that happens, HIV infection can lead to AIDS. That is why it is important to get tested and to seek medical treatment as soon as possible if HIV is detected. There is no cure, but with proper medical care, the virus can be controlled.
How is HIV Transmitted?
HIV is spread through blood and genital fluids, including pre-seminal fluid and semen (also known as pre-cum and cum). Anyone can become infected with HIV by engaging in unprotected sex (anal, vaginal or oral) or other types of sexual behavior with an HIV-positive person, or by sharing needles, syringes or other injection equipment with someone who is infected with HIV. HIV cannot be spread through air or water, insect bites, saliva, tears, sweat, casual contact like shaking hands or sharing dishes, or closed-mouth or social kissing.
Know the Risks
Not having sex is the best way to protect yourself from HIV infection. But if you are having sex, it is important to know the risks of different types of sexual activity. Not all sexual activities have the same risk. Some pose a greater risk for transmitting HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases. In addition, the risk of getting or passing on HIV depends your HIV status, your partner’s HIV status, you or your partner’s viral load (that is, the amount of virus in the body) (if either one of you has HIV), and condom use. In general, high-risk behavior includes the following:
- Unprotected sex with multiple partners or partners you do not know
- Unprotected sex with a person who has HIV
- Sharing needles for injection drug use
The sexual behavior that has the highest risk of transmitting HIV between gay and bisexual men is unprotected anal sex. Unprotected oral sex can also be a risk for HIV transmission, but it is a lower risk than anal sex.
Knowing your HIV status will make you stronger because you will have the information you need to make good decisions about your sexual health and your future. Studies have shown that when people find out they have HIV, they are more likely to take steps to protect their health and that of their partners. Also, if you find out that you are infected with HIV, you can seek medical care quickly. People often live long, fulfilling, and healthy lives after receiving an HIV diagnosis. It’s important to take charge of your health if you are diagnosed with HIV.
If you have unprotected sex or take other risks with someone who is HIV positive, it is important to understand that your infection will not show up immediately in an HIV test. Most HIV tests are antibody tests that measure the antibodies (special proteins the body makes to fight HIV) produced by the body once infected by HIV. It can take some time for these antibodies to show up in a test, and this time period can vary from person to person. This time period is commonly referred to as the “window period.”
Most people will develop antibodies that standard HIV tests can detect within 2 – 8 weeks (the average is 25 days). But, there is a chance that some people will take longer to develop antibodies. So, if you had risky sex or engaged in risky behavior with a person who has HIV or whose HIV status is unknown, you may need multiple tests to ensure you were not infected. For example, if you got an HIV test within the first three months after possible exposure, you should get another test after those three months have passed in case the first test occurred during your window period. Ninety-seven percent of people will develop antibodies in the first three months following the time of their infection. In very rare cases, it can take up to six months to develop antibodies to HIV.
Getting treatment for HIV can save your life and protect others. There is no cure for HIV, nor is there a vaccination to prevent it. However, there are medications than can help those infected with HIV live with the disease and lengthen their lives. To learn more about HIV treatment options, check out CDC’s HIV/AIDS treatment website.
To arrange testing contact the TABS hotline at 876-422-5797.