Frequently Asked Questions

What does HIV mean?

HIV stands for Human Immunodeficiency Virus

  • Human: HIV only affects humans—not animals.
  • Immunodeficiency: immune system fails to fight off disease and infection.
  • Virus: an organism that can only survive by “taking over” other cells so it can reproduce and spread throughout the body—much like the common cold, influenza, and chicken pox.

HIV is the virus that causes Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome (AIDS). A person can be HIV positive without having AIDS.

What is AIDS?

AIDS stands for Acquired Immuno-Deficiency Syndrome

  • Acquired: gotten through exposure to HIV—not genetic.
  • Immuno: relates to the immune system—the cells and molecules that fight off infection and illness.
  • Deficiency: something that is lacking—in this case, the immune system.
  • Syndrome: collection of symptoms and signs of disease—AIDS is not a single disease, but a collection of many different physical ailments.
  • AIDS is considered the last stage of HIV.
How does HIV make me sick?

HIV enters the body and attacks a special type of white blood cell called a “CD4” cell. CD4 cells protect your body from infection by warning the immune system of intruders. HIV attacks and destroys CD4 cells causing the body to become vulnerable to illness and disease.

How do I get HIV?

HIV can be spread through contact with an infected persons:

  • Blood
  • Semen
  • Pre-seminal fluids
  • Rectal fluids
  • Vaginal fluids
  • Breast milk

This means that you can contract or give HIV through sexual intercourse, from your mother during birth or breastfeeding, or through exposure to blood—such as using injection drugs or blood transfusions. Blood is now screened for HIV, so the risk of contracting HIV from a blood transfusion is minimal.

Who is at risk for HIV?

Even though every sexually active person of intravenous drug user is at risk for contracting HIV, there are a few populations that are more vulnerable.

  • Gay, bisexual, and other men that have sex with men (MSM)
    • While men who have sex with men make up just 2% of the U.S. population, they account for 66% of new HIV infections, 56% of total people living with HIV, and 55% of all AIDS related deaths since the beginning of the HIV epidemic.1
    • An estimated 12-13% of MSM in the U.S. are HIV positive.1
    • The CDC estimates that 18% of gay and bisexual men with HIV are unaware of their status.1
  • African Americans
    • Both African American men and women bear the greatest burden of HIV infections throughout the United States.1
    • Among all African Americans diagnosed with HIV in 2014, an estimated 73% were men and 26% were women.1
    • African Americans represent 12% of the U.S. population, but account for 44% of new HIV infections as of 2014.2
    • From 2005 to 2014, the number of new HIV diagnoses among African American gay and bisexual men increased 22%. But that number steadied in recent years, increasing less than 1% since 2010.1
  • Intravenous Drug Users (IDUs)
    • Ten percent of HIV infections globally are attributed to intravenous drug use.3
    • In the United States, IDUs account for almost 7% of HIV infections.2
    • At the end of 2012, 5% of males living with HIV and 9% of females living with HIV were IDUs.2
How do I reduce my chances of contracting HIV?
  • Using condoms
    • Consistent and proper use of condoms have been proven to reduce your chance of contracting and transmitting HIV.
  • Lifestyle Changes
    • Changes would include limiting risky sexual behavior, seeking treatment for drug use, or only using clean intravenous drug paraphernalia.
  • Taking PrEP Medicine
    • PrEP stands for Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis and is a method of prevention for those who may be at high risk of getting HIV.
    • PrEP is a pill you take daily composed of the same medicine people who already have HIV take to stay healthy.
    • When combined with condom use and other prevention methods, PrEP provides a higher level of protection against HIV than using other prevention methods alone.
  • Taking PEP Medicine
    • PEP stands for Post-Exposure Prophylaxis. This means that this is used to prevent HIV after an exposure may have happened. There are two types of PEP based on what type of exposure you experienced:
      • If you are a healthcare worker, you may be evaluated for PEP if exposed to bodily fluids during care or HIV during a needle stick.
      • If you have been exposed to HIV during a single event, unrelated to work, such as unprotected sex, sexual assault, or needle sharing, you can also use PEP.
    • PEP must be initiated within 3 days of exposure, so you must contact a provider immediately.
    • For more information on Post-Exposure Prophylaxis, please see CDC’s Basics of PEP.
How often should I be tested?

The CDC recommends that people get tested at least once a year for HIV. If you fall into a high risk category, you may want to get tested every 3 to 6 months.

  • People who fall into the high risk behavior category include:
    • Men who have sex with men (MSM)
    • People who use drugs intravenously (IV) and share unclean needles or other drug paraphernalia
    • People who have a history of sexually transmitted diseases (STDs)
    • People who have ever had sex without a condom or other method of protection

CDC also recommends screening all pregnant women for HIV as early as possible in the first trimester and a second HIV test during the third trimester, preferably <36 weeks of gestation (using a test that detects recent HIV infection) for women whose earlier HIV test was negative.

  • Georgia requires that physicians and health care providers offer HIV and syphilis testing of pregnant women in their first and third trimester of pregnancy.

Some physicians recommend having an HIV test every time you have a physical checkup.

What do I do if my test result is positive?
  • Don’t Panic! Since the development of Highly Active Anti-Retroviral Therapy (HAART) in the 90s, the number of AIDS deaths has decreased dramatically, allowing people with HIV to live longer and healthier lives.
  • Take some time and write a list of all the questions you may have.
  • Begin to think of who you would like to tell. Telling someone not only relieves the burden of not telling, but also opens up several ways to establish support systems and pathways to ultimately live a happy and healthy life.
  • Find a trusted physician whom you would be comfortable going to for treatment
  • Reduce your risk of transmitting HIV to others.
    • You should use a condom for any future sexual encounters.
    • Do not share any used drug paraphernalia.
    • If you are in a discordant relationship (one is positive and the other is negative), look into using PrEP.
    • Always consider safer sex, safer drug use, and seek out resources to help with these.

Source: Georgia Capus Resource Hub