Straight to the Facts: HIV/AIDS

  • Caused by sexual contact or sharing drug supplies with an infected person

  • Can get HIV through anal sex

  • Body fluids that transmit HIV include cum and pre-cum, vaginal fluids, rectal fluids, and breast milk

  • You may not have any symptoms early on or you may have flu-like symptoms

  • There is no cure, but antiretroviral therapy (ART) drugs can be used to treat HIV+ patients and prevent the development of AIDS

  • People who are at high risk of getting HIV can take pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) to prevent contracting it

  • HIV can be spread from mother to baby

How Do I know I have it?

Some people may experience flu-like symptoms within 2 to 4 weeks after infection (Stage 1 HIV infection) and some people may not feel sick during this stage. Flu-like symptoms include fever, chills, rash, night sweats, muscle aches, sore throat, fatigue, swollen lymph nodes, or mouth ulcers. Symptoms can last anywhere from a few days to several weeks. During this time, the HIV infection may not show up on an HIV test, but people who have it are highly infectious and can spread the infection to others. If you have these symptoms after a potential exposure to HIV, see a health care provider and tell them about your concern. The only way to determine whether you are infected is to be tested for the HIV infection.

How can I get it?


Only certain body fluids—blood, semen (cum), pre-seminal fluid (pre-cum), rectal fluids, vaginal fluids, and breast milk—from a person who has HIV can transmit HIV. These fluids must come in contact with a mucous membrane or damaged tissue. It can also be directly injected into the bloodstream (from a needle or syringe) for transmission to occur. Mucous membranes are found inside the rectum, vagina, penis, and mouth.

HIV is caused by a virus called Human Immunodeficiency Virus. AIDS, which stands for Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome. It is a serious problem with your immune system. AIDS is caused by HIV, usually several years after infection, and is very serious. It can lead to serious infections, cancer, and even death.


The HIV virus hurts your immune system by killing cells called CD4 T-cells. These cells usually defend your body against attack by other viruses and bacteria. Without these cells, your body's ability to defend itself is very weak and you may get seriously ill.


At the end of 2015, an estimated 1.1 million people in the US were living with HIV. Of those people, 15% did not know they were infected and in 2016, 39,782 people were newly diagnosed.

The CDC recommends you get an HIV test if you: have been diagnosed or treated for another STI, have been diagnosed or treated for tuberculosis or hepatitis, are a man who has sexual contact with other men, have an HIV-positive partner, have had more than one partner since your last HIV test, have shared needles or drug supplies with someone, have exchanged sex for money or drugs, or have had sex with anyone who meets these criteria.

In the United States, HIV is spread mainly by:

  • Having anal or vaginal sex with someone who has HIV without using a condom or taking medicines to prevent or treat HIV.

    • Anal sex is the highest-risk sexual behavior.

    • Vaginal sex is the second-highest-risk sexual behavior.

  • Sharing needles or syringes, rinse water, or other equipment (works) used to prepare drugs for injection with someone who has HIV. HIV can live in a used needle up to 42 days depending on temperature and other factors.


How can I get treated?


HIV treatment involves taking medications that slow the progression of the virus in the body. HIV is a type of virus called a retrovirus. The medications used to treat the virus are called antiretrovirals (ARV). These drugs are always given in combination with other ARVs called antiretroviral therapy (ART). Many ART drugs have been used since the mid-1990s and are very effective. Due to these drugs, the annual number of deaths related to AIDS has dropped over the past two decades.


Although a cure for HIV does not yet exist, ART can keep you healthy for many years, and greatly reduces your chance of transmitting HIV to your partner(s) if taken consistently and correctly. ART reduces the amount of virus (or viral load) in your blood and body fluids.

ART is recommended for all people living with HIV, regardless of how long they have had the virus or how healthy they are.


What happens if I do not get treated?


HIV infections that result in the development of AIDS can cause seizures, difficulty swallowing, confusion, diarrhea, fever, vision loss, nausea, abdominal cramps, vomiting, weight loss, headaches, or coma. It is important to talk to your doctor early about your HIV status to prevent serious complications.


My partner is HIV-positive. Is there anything I can do to keep myself from getting it?


Yes! If your partner has tested positive for HIV, it is important that you talk to your doctor. There are treatments available for people in high-risk populations, including people with HIV-positive partners and sex workers, called pre-exposure prophylaxis or PrEP. PrEP can reduce the chances of contracting HIV by 92% if you take it as directed. To lower your risk further, use condoms, female condoms, and dental dams every time you have sex.


If you think you've been exposed recently or have been recently assaulted, you can ask your doctor about post-exposure prophylaxis or PEP. PEP must be taken within 72 hours of a potential exposure and is effective in reducing HIV infection.


What if I am pregnant?


HIV can be spread from mother to baby during birth. So, it is important for all pregnant women to get tested early in their pregnancy every time they get pregnant to reduce the risk of spreading HIV to their baby. Even if you have tested negative in the past, it's important to get tested during your current pregnancy. There are drugs available which can reduce the chances of spreading HIV to your baby as low as 1% if you take them regularly. Talk to your doctor about your HIV status and what you can do to reduce the risk of spreading the infection to your baby.  You will also need to give medications to your baby after birth. You can also reduce the risk of spreading the disease to your baby by not breastfeeding the baby and not pre-chewing their food.

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