Information included on this page was taken from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) website. To obtain more information on the CDC click here.
HIV (human immunodeficiency virus) is the virus that causes AIDS. This virus may be passed from one person to another when infected blood, semen, or vaginal secretions come in contact with an uninfected person’s broken skin or mucous membranes. In addition, infected pregnant women can pass HIV to their baby during pregnancy or delivery, as well as through breast-feeding. People with HIV have what is called HIV infection. Some of these people will develop AIDS as a result of their HIV infection.
AIDS stands for Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome.
Acquired means that the disease is not hereditary but develops after birth from contact with a disease causing agent (in this case, HIV).
Immunodeficiency means that the disease is characterized by a weakening of the immune system.
Syndrome refers to a group of symptoms that collectively indicate or characterize a disease. In the case of AIDS this can include the development of certain infections and/or cancers, as well as a decrease in the number of certain cells in a person’s immune system.
A diagnosis of AIDS is made by a physician using specific clinical or laboratory standards.
Frequently asked questions
How can I tell if I'm infected with HIV? What are the symptoms?
The only way to know if you are infected is to be tested for HIV infection. You cannot rely on symptoms to know whether or not you are infected. Many people who are infected with HIV do not have any symptoms at all for many years.
The following may be warning signs of HIV infection:
However, no one should assume they are infected if they have any of these symptoms. Each of these symptoms can be related to other illnesses. Again, the only way to determine whether you are infected is to be tested for HIV infection.
What are the different HIV screening tests available in the U.S.?
In most cases the EIA (enzyme immunoassay), performed on blood drawn from a vein, is the standard screening test used to detect the presence of antibodies to HIV. A reactive EIA must be used with a follow-up confirmatory test such as the Western blot to make a positive diagnosis. There are EIA tests that use other body fluids to screen for antibodies to HIV. These include:
A rapid test is a screening test that produces very quick results, in approximately 20-60 minutes. Rapid tests use blood or oral fluid to look for the presence of antibodies to HIV. As is true for all screening tests, a reactive rapid HIV test result must be confirmed with a follow-up confirmatory test before a final diagnosis of infection can be made. These tests have similar accuracy rates as traditional EIA screening tests.
How long after a possible exposure should I wait to get tested for HIV?
It can take some time for the immune system to produce enough antibodies for the antibody test to detect and this time period can vary from person to person. This time period is commonly referred to as the “window period”. Most people will develop detectable antibodies within 2 to 8 weeks (the average is 25 days). Even so, there is a chance that some individuals will take longer to develop detectable antibodies. Therefore, if the initial negative HIV test was conducted within the first 3 months after possible exposure, repeat testing should be considered >3 months after the exposure occurred to account for the possibility of a false-negative result. Ninety seven percent will develop antibodies in the first 3 months following the time of their infection. In very rare cases, it can take up to 6 months to develop antibodies to HIV.
Where can I get tested for HIV infection?
Many places provide testing for HIV infection. Common testing locations include local health departments, clinics, offices of private doctors, hospitals, and other sites set up specifically to provide HIV testing. For information on where to find an HIV testing site click here.
If I test HIV negative, does that mean that my partner is HIV negative also?
No. Your HIV test result reveals only your HIV status. Your negative test result does not indicate whether or not your partner has HIV. HIV is not necessarily transmitted every time there is an exposure. Therefore, your taking an HIV test should not be seen as a method to find out if your partner is infected.
Ask your partner about his or her HIV status; what risk behaviors they have engaged in both currently and in the past; and encourage your partner to get tested for HIV.
It is important to take steps to reduce your risk of getting HIV. Not having (abstaining from) sex is the most effective way to avoid HIV. If you choose to be sexually active, mutually monogamous sex with an uninfected partner is also effective. If you choose to have sex with a partner where either you or your partner’s HIV status is uncertain, use a latex condom to help protect both you and your partner from HIV and other STDs. Studies have shown that latex condoms are very effective, though not 100%, in preventing HIV transmission when used correctly and consistently. If either partner is allergic to latex, plastic (polyurethane) condoms for either the male or female can be used.
What if I test positive for HIV?
If you test positive for HIV, the sooner you take steps to protect your health, the better. Early medical treatment and a healthy lifestyle can help you stay well. Prompt medical care may delay the onset of AIDS and prevent some life-threatening conditions. There are a number of important steps you can take immediately to protect your health:
There is much you can do to stay healthy. Learn all that you can about maintaining good health.
I'm HIV positive. Where can I get information about treatments?
CDC recommends that you be in the care of a licensed health care provider, preferably one with experience treating people living with HIV. Your health care provider can assist you with treatment information and guidance.
Detailed information on specific treatments is available from the Department of Health and Human Services click here.
If you would like more information or have personal concerns, call CDC-INFO 24 Hours/ Day at1-800-CDC-INFO (232-4636).
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