© 2015 by Family Aids Coalition, Inc.

HIV is the virus that causes AIDS.

H- Human: because this virus can only infect human beings.

I- Immuno-deficiency: because the effect of the virus is to create a deficiency, 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.

A- Acquired: because it's 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.

AIDS stands for Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome.

 

An HIV-positive person receives an AIDS diagnosis after developing one of the CDC-defined AIDS indicator illnesses. An HIV-positive person can also receive an AIDS diagnosis on the basis of certain blood tests (CD4 counts) and may not have experienced any serious illnesses. A positive HIV test does not mean that a person has AIDS. A diagnosis of AIDS is made by a physician according to the CDC AIDS Case Definition.

 

Over time, infection with HIV (Human Immunodeficiency Virus) can weaken the immune system to the point that the system has difficulty fighting off certain infections. These types of infections are known as opportunistic infections. Many of the infections that cause problems or that can be life-threatening for people with AIDS are usually controlled by a healthy immune system. The immune system of a person with AIDShas weakened to the point that medical intervention may be necessary to prevent or treat serious illness.

What is AIDS?

What is the Difference Between HIV and AIDS?

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 researchers use the term acute HIV infection to describe the period of time between when a person is first 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 some "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). Other people either do not experience "acute infection," 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 Centers for Disease Control's definition of full-blown "AIDS". The median time to receive an AIDS diagnosis among those infected with HIV is 7-10 years.

How is HIV Transmitted?

HIV can be transmitted from an infected person to another through:

 

  • Blood (including menstrual blood)

  • Semen

  • Vaginal secretions

  • 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, including injection drug needles, blood transfusions, accidents in health care settings or certain blood products

  • Mother to baby (before or during birth, or through breast milk)

  •  

Sexual intercourse (vaginal and anal): In the genitals and the rectum, HIV may infect the mucous membranes directly or enter through cuts and sores caused during intercourse (many of which would be unnoticed). Vaginal and anal intercourse is a high-risk practice.

 

Oral sex (mouth-penis, mouth-vagina): The mouth is an inhospitable environment for HIV (in semen, vaginal fluid or blood), meaning the risk of HIV transmission through the throat, gums, and oral membranes is lower than through vaginal or anal membranes. There are however, documented cases where HIV was transmitted orally, so we can't say that getting HIV-infected semen, vaginal fluid or blood in the mouth is without risk. However, oral sex is considered a low risk practice.

 

Sharing injection needles: An injection needle can pass blood directly from one person's bloodstream to another. It is a very efficient way to transmit a blood-borne virus. Sharing needles is considered a high-risk practice.

 

Mother to Child: It is possible for an HIV-infected mother to pass the virus directly before or during birth, or through breast milk. Breast milk contains HIV, and while small amounts of breast milk do not pose significant threat of infection to adults, it is a viable means of transmission to infants.

 

The following "bodily fluids" are NOT infectious:

 

  • Saliva

  • Tears

  • Sweat

  • Feces

  • Urine

Can I get HIV from oral sex?

There is considerable debate within the HIV/AIDS prevention community regarding the risk of transmission of HIV through oral sex. What is currently known is that there is some risk associated with performing oral sex without protection; (there have been a few documented cases of HIV transmission through oral sex). While no one knows exactly what that risk is, cumulative evidence indicates that the risk is less than that of unprotected anal or vaginal sex. The risk from receiving oral sex, for both a man and a woman, is considered to be very low.

 

Currently, risk reduction options when performing oral sex on a man (fellatio) include the use of latex condoms, but also include withdrawal before ejaculation without a condom (avoiding semen in the mouth) and/or refraining from this activity when cuts or sores are present in the mouth.

 

When performing oral sex on a woman (cunnilingus), moisture barriers such as a dam (sheet of latex), a cut-open and flattened condom, or household plastic wrap can reduce the risk of exposure to vaginal secretions and/or blood.

Can I get HIV from kissing?

Casual contact through closed-mouth or "social" kissing is not a risk for transmission of HIV. Because of the potential for contact with blood during "French" or open-mouth, wet kissing, CDC recommends against engaging in this activity with a person known to be infected. However, the risk of acquiring HIV during open-mouth kissing is believed to be very low. CDC has investigated only one case of HIV infection that may be attributed to contact with blood during open-mouth kissing. In this case both partners had extensive dental problems including gingivitis (inflammation of the gums). It is likely that there was blood present in both partners' mouths making direct blood to blood contact a possibility.

Several studies have demonstrated that latex condoms are highly effective in preventing HIV transmission when used correctly and consistently. These studies looked at uninfected people considered to be at very high risk of infection because they were involved in sexual relationships with HIV-infected persons. The studies found that even with repeated sexual contact, 98-100% of those people who used latex condoms consistently and correctly remained uninfected.

How effective are latex condoms in preventing HIV?

The time it takes for a person who has been infected with HIV to seroconvert (test positive) forHIV antibodies is commonly called the "Window Period."

 

The California Office of AIDS, published in 1998, says about the window period: "When a person is infected with the HIV virus, statistics show that 95-97% (perhaps higher) of all infected individuals develop antibodies within 12 weeks (3-months)."
 

The National CDC has said that in some rare cases, it may take up to six months for one to seroconvert (test positive). At this point the results would be 99.9% accurate.

 

What does this mean for you?

 

The three-month window period is normal for approximately 95% of the population. If you feel any anxiety about relying on the 3-month result, by all means you should have another test at 6 months.

How long after a possible exposure should I be tested for HIV?