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HIV 101 The Basics

What is HIV?

HIV is the acronym for human immunodeficiency virus.  It is the virus that can lead to acquired immunodeficiency syndrome, or AIDS, if not treated. Unlike some other viruses, the human body cannot get rid of HIV completely, even with treatment.  So once you become infected with HIV, you have it for life.

How Is HIV Transmitted?

You can get or transmit HIV only through specific activities.  Most commonly, people get or transmit HIV through sexual behaviors and needle or syringe use.  Only certain body fluids—blood, semen, pre-seminal fluid, rectal fluids, vaginal fluids, and breast milk—from a person who has HIV can transmit HIV.

HIV is not transmitted by hugging, shaking hands, sharing toilets, sharing dishes, or closed-mouth or “social” kissing with someone who is HIV-positive.  Additionally, it is not transmitted through saliva, tears, or sweat that is not mixed with the blood of an HIV-positive person; or by mosquitoes, ticks and other blood-sucking insects.

Who Is At Risk for HIV?

Some groups of people in the United States are more likely to get HIV than others because of many factors, including the status of their sex partners, their risk behaviors, and where they live.

Gay and bisexual men have the largest number of new diagnoses in the United States. Blacks/African Americans and Hispanics/Latinos are disproportionately affected by HIV compared to other racial and ethnic groups. Also, transgender women who have sex with men are among the groups at highest risk for HIV infection, and injection drug users remain at significant risk for getting HIV.

What Are the Symptoms for HIV?

About 40% to 90% of people have flu-like symptoms within 2-4 weeks after HIV infection.  Other people do not feel sick at all during this stage, which is also known as acute HIV infection.

You cannot rely on symptoms to tell whether you have HIV.  The only way to know for sure if 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.

Is There A Cure for HIV?

No effective cure currently exists for HIV.  However, with proper medical care, HIV can be controlled.  Treatment for HIV is called anti-retroviral 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.