What is HIV?

HIV (human immunodeficiency virus) is a virus that attacks the immune system, making it harder for the body to fight infection. HIV causes AIDS (acquired immune deficiency syndrome), which is the last stage of the HIV infection and can be life threatening.

HIV is spread through contact with bodily fluids, such as blood, semen, or vaginal fluids. HIV is not spread through hugging, touching or lightly kissing someone who is HIV-positive.

Certain factors increase the risk of contracting HIV, including having more than one partner, having unprotected sex (sex without proper use of a condom), or sharing needles with someone who is HIV-positive. Individuals who engage in these types of high-risk behaviors should be tested for HIV every six months.

Symptoms of HIV

Symptoms of HIV infection may include flu-like symptoms soon after infection, and then no other symptoms for years until the disease progresses.

HIV Diagnosis

Early diagnosis of HIV infection is essential to provide treatment and avoid risk of spreading it to others. Diagnosis is provided through a simple, inexpensive blood test, which checks for HIV antibodies in the blood.

Treatment of HIV

Medication for HIV can delay or prevent AIDS from developing, and help to prolong health. Regular checks of the immune system are also important. Many live with HIV for years and even decades before developing AIDS.

Other HIV risks & concerns

Pregnant women should be tested for STDs, including HIV. Although HIV can spread from a mother to her unborn baby, the use of medication during pregnancy can greatly reduce the risk of passing the HIV infection to the infant.

People who are infected with STDs are more likely to acquire HIV infection than those without an STD. If exposed to the HIV virus, people with an STD are two to five times more likely than uninfected individuals to acquire the HIV infection.

If someone infected with HIV also has another STD, that individual is more likely to transmit HIV through sexual contact than other HIV-infected individuals. Studies have found that detecting and treating STDs may reduce HIV transmission. Treatment decreases both the amount of HIV in genital secretions and how frequently HIV is found in those secretions.