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Frequently Asked Questions:
Below is a list of Frequestly Asked Questions (FAQ) that people have about HIV/AIDS and HIV testing. Visit our other FAQ pages for information about Latinos and HIV/AIDS and Latino Community Services.
If you don't see your question(s), please send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org and your question(s) will be answered as soon as possible.
Also, visit www.cdc.gov/hiv/surveillance/incidence/sote/index.htm for an interactive slideshow on who HIV is impacting in the US today.
Click here for the latest fact sheet from the CDC on HIV/AIDS in the United States
Click here for the most recent epidemiological profile from the State of CT
What is the difference between HIV and AIDS?
HIV is the virus that causes AIDS. HIV stands for:
H - Human, because this visur can only infect human beings
I - Immuno-deficiency, because the effect of the virus is to create a deficiency, or a failure to work properly, within the body's immune system
V - Virus, because this organism is a virus, which means one of its characteristics is that it is incapable of reproducing by itself. It reproduces by taking over the machinery of the human cell.
AIDS stands for:
A - Acquired, because it is a condition one must acquire or get infected with, not something transmitted through the genes
I - Immune, because it affects the body's immune system, the part of the body which usually works to fight off germs such as bacteria and viruses
D - Deficiency, because it makes the immune system deficient (makes it not work properly)
S - Syndrome, because someone with AIDS may experience a wide range of different diseases and opportunistic infections
How is HIV transmitted?
HIV can be transmitted from an infected person to another through blood (including menstrual blood), semen, vaginal secretions, and breast milk. Blood contains the highest concentration of the virus, followed by semen, followed by vaginal fluids, followed by breast milk.
Activities that allow HIV Transmission
- Unprotected sexual contact
- Direct blood contact, particularly through sharing injection drug needles
- Infections due to blood transfusion, accidents in health care settings or certain blood product are possible, although they are extremely rare in the United States
- Mother to baby (before or during birth, or through breast milk)
The following "bodily fluids" are NOT infectious: saliva, tears, sweat, feces, urine
You CANNOT get HIV:
* By working with or being around someone who has HIV.
* From sweat, spit, tears, clothes, drinking fountains, phones, toilet seats, or through everyday things like sharing a meal.
* From insect bites or stings.
* From donating blood.
* From a closed-mouth kiss (but there is a very small chance of getting it from open-mouthed or "French" kissing with an infected person because of possible blood contact).
How can I prevent HIV infection?
* Don’t share needles and syringes used to inject drugs, steroids, vitamins, or for tattooing or body piercing. Also, don’t share equipment ("works") used to prepare drugs to be injected. Many people have been infected with HIV, hepatitis, and other germs this way. Germs from an infected person can stay in a needle and then be injected directly into the next person who uses the needle.
* The surest way to avoid transmission of sexually transmitted diseases is to abstain from sexual intercourse, or to be in a longterm mutually monogamous relationship with a partner who has been tested and you know is uninfected.
* For persons whose sexual behaviors place them at risk for STDs, correct and consistent use of the male latex condom can reduce the risk of STD transmission. However, no protective method is 100 percent effective, and condom use cannot guarantee absolute protection against any STD. The more sex partners you have, the greater your chances are of getting HIV or other diseases passed through sex.
* Condoms used with a lubricant are less likely to break. However, condoms with the spermicide nonoxynol-9 are not recommended for STD/HIV prevention. Condoms must be used correctly and consistently to be effective and protective. Incorrect use can lead to condom slippage or breakage, thus diminishing the protective effect. Inconsistent use, e.g., failure to use condoms with every act of intercourse, can result in STD transmission because transmission can occur with a single act of intercourse.
* If you are pregnant or think you might be soon, talk to a doctor or your local health department about being tested for HIV. If you share HIV, drug treatments are available to help you and they can reduce the chance of passing HIV to your baby.
What are the symptoms of HIV?
Primary HIV infection is the first stage of HIV disease, when the virus first establishes itself in the body. Some people use the term "acute HIV infection" to describe the period of time btween when a person is infected with HIV and when antibodies against the virus are produced by the body (usually 6-12 weeks)
Some people newly infected with HIV will experience flu-like symptoms. These symptoms, which usually last no more than a few days, might include fevers, chills, night sweats and rashes (not cold-like symptoms). Many other people either do not experience acute symptoms, or have symptoms so mild that they may not notice them.
Given the general character of the symptoms of acute infection, they can easily have causes other than HIV, such as a flu infection. For example, if you had some risk for HIV a few days ago and are now experiencing flu-like symptoms, it might be possible that HIV is responsible for the symptoms, but it is also possible that you have some other viral infection.
What are the symptoms of AIDS?
There are no common symptoms for individuals diagnosed with AIDS. When immune system damage is more severe, people may experience opportunistic infections(called "opportunistic" because they are caused by organisms which cannot induce disease in people with normal immune systems, but take the "opportunity" to flourish in people with HIV). Most of these more severe infections, diseases, and symptoms fall under the official definition of AIDS. The median time to receive an AIDS diagnosis among those infected with HIV is 7-10 years.
Is there a cure for HIV/AIDS?
Although there have been many advances in HIV treatments and therapies in recent years that have dramatically improved the quality of life and life expectancy of persons with HIV/AIDS in the US and other developed countries, there is, as of yet, NO cure.
What is HIV testing?
An HIV test will tell you if you're infected with HIV (Human Immunodeficiency Virus), the virus that causes AIDS. These tests look for "antibodies" to HIV. Antibodies are proteins produced by the immune system to fight a specific germ.
If you come to LCS to get an HIV test, you will meet with a trained Counselor who will speak with you about your risk for HIV and give you any information on HIV that you need. You will then be tested using a "rapid test," which means that you will receive your results within 30 minutes. This test uses a small blood sample from your fingertip. If the test is "reactive," a larger blood sample will be drawn and sent to the state laboratory for confirmatory testing. A positive result on any HIV test should be confirmed with a second test.
You can also ask your doctor about testing you for HIV.
When should I get tested?
If you become infected with HIV, it usually takes between three weeks and two months for your immune system to produce antibodies to HIV. If you think you were exposed to HIV, you should wait for two months before being tested. You can also test right away and then again after two or three months. During this "window period" an antibody test may give a negative result, but you can transmit the virus to others if you are infected.
About 5% of people take longer than two months to produce antibodies. Testing at three and six months after possible exposure will detect almost all HIV infections. However, there are no guarantees as to when an individual will produce enough antibodies to be detected by an HIV test.
What does it mean if I test positive?
A positive test means that you have HIV antibodies, and are infected with HIV. You will get your test results from a counselor who should tell you what to expect and where to get health services and emotional support.
Testing positive does not mean that you have AIDS. Many people who test positive stay healthy for several years, even if they don't start taking medication right away. HIV-positive people should protect against infecting others, including by using condoms for sexual acts and not sharing needles.
How accurate are the tests?
Antibody tests for HIV are accurate more than 99.5% of the time. Before you get the results, the test has usually been done two or more times. The first test is called an "EIA" or "ELISA" test. Before a positive ELISA test is reported, it is confirmed by another test called a "Western Blot."
As mentioned above, people who were recently infected may test negative if they get tested too soon after being infected with HIV.
General Disclaimer: The above information is designed for educational purposes only and is not engaged in rendering medical advice or professional services. The information provided should not be used for diagnosing or treating a health care problem or a disease. It is not a substitute for professional care. If you have or suspect you may have a health problem, consult your health care provider. Special thanks to The Body (www.thebody.com) for providing this information.