Most of us have many questions about HIV and AIDS. If you have unanswered questions or concerns - or if you would like to schedule an educational workshop please contact BAO's Education Director.
01 - What is HIV?
What is HIV? Back To Top of Page
"HIV" stands for Human Immunodeficiency Virus. Many people also refer to HIV as the "AIDS virus."
Can I tell by symptoms if I am HIV positive or not? Back To Top of Page
You cannot tell your HIV status by symptoms. Symptoms for HIV may not occur for years after you become infected, so many people who are infected do not know it. Initial symptoms of HIV are very common and may be associated with a variety of illnesses.
If you are feeling sick or having symptoms you should see your doctor. However, if you think you might have been at risk of getting HIV, you must get an HIV test to know if you did become infected or not.
Are HIV and AIDS the same thing? Back To Top of Page
No. HIV and AIDS are not interchangeable terms, although the media often uses them that way. HIV is a tiny microscopic organism. AIDS is a specific collection of illnesses or diseases caused by having the HIV virus in your body.
A person can have HIV for many years without showing any symptoms of AIDS. Some people have been infected with HIV for 15 years or more without having symptoms. They are considered to be HIV positive. When an HIV positive person develops minor symptoms it may be a sign that the disease is progressing. A doctor would determine, based on the symptoms and certain blood test if the person has AIDS or not.
Which body fluids do not transmit HIV and which ones do? Back To Top of Page
Saliva, Sweat, Tears, and Urine do not transmit HIV -- But, semen, blood, and vaginal fluids do. Any activity that includes no direct contact with your partner's semen, blood or vaginal fluids is safe. Activities that do involve direct contact with semen, blood, or vaginal fluids are risky. Any precautions that reduce the chance of direct contact with those fluids will make sex safer.
Isn't abstinence the only real "safe" sex? Back To Top of Page
Yes. That is why we have the term "Safer" Sex. Safer sex is any means of enjoying sex to the fullest without transmitting, or acquiring, any sexually related infections. Safer sex does not mean eliminating sexual passion and intimacy from your life. It just means that you have to be aware of the risk and use the tools available to reduce the risk to a level that both you and your partner feel comfortable with.
Can I get HIV by just masturbating with my partner? Back To Top of Page
Masturbation is one of the safest sexual activities you can engage in. It is safe for semen or vaginal fluids to contact healthy, unbroken skin in mutual masturbation. Healthy skin (no open cuts or fresh sores) provides very good protection against HIV.
Is HIV spread by kissing? Back To Top of Page
There is no evidence that saliva transmits HIV. Deep kissing may transmit other sexually transmitted disease but not HIV. Kissing or licking your partner's body will not spread HIV. The only time kissing could be a possible mode of transmission for HIV would be if there was a significant presence of blood in the mouth of the infected person.
Can it be risky to perform oral sex on a woman? Back To Top of Page
The risk of getting HIV by performing oral sex on a woman is lower than the risk of getting it through vaginal and anal sex. Using a latex square, dental dam, condom cut open or plastic wrap may reduce the risk further. During menstruation the risk may increase because of the presence of blood.
The risk of a woman acquiring HIV by receiving oral sex is extremely low. Some other diseases, such as gonorrhea and herpes may be transmitted during oral sex on a woman.
Would performing oral sex on a man be as risky as anal sex, vaginal sex, or sharing injection drugs? Back To Top of Page
No. Performing oral sex on a man is lower risk than vaginal and anal sex or sharing injection drugs. However, low risk does not mean no risk. In a man with HIV, both semen and pre-ejaculatory fluid (pre-cum) which contain the virus could be introduced into the mouth, so merely stopping before he ejaculates may not eliminate the risk.
Using a condom for oral sex on a man reduces the risk of getting HIV. The risk of a man getting HIV by receiving oral sex is very low. Some other diseases, such as gonorrhea and herpes may be transmitted by giving oral sex to a man.
Are all condoms the same? Back To Top
No. There are many options available in brands, styles, colors, flavors, and lubrication. Latex condoms are most effective at preventing HIV transmission, when used properly. Natural skin or animal membrane condoms do not prevent HIV transmission.
Be aware that many condoms, french ticklers, glow in the dark, etc. are sold as novelty items and are not intended to prevent infection of any disease. Condoms do not provide 100 percent protection against HIV, but they are highly effective if they are used properly each time you have sex.
How long after a possible exposure should I wait to be tested to know for sure that I am not HIV infected? Back To Top
The tests used to determine HIV infection look for antibodies produced by the body to fight HIV. According to the CDC, most people will develop detectable antibodies within 3 months after infection. In rare cases, it can take up to six months. A test at least 3 months after the last possible exposure should be highly accurate. However, the CDC recommends testing again at 6 months, just to be sure.
How do you use a condom? Back To Top
Always leave a space at the tip to receive the semen. Put a drop of water-based lubricant inside the tip of the condom to increase pleasure. Do not use oil-based lubricants as they can cause the latex to break. Put the condom on the erect penis before any contact with the other person.
If the penis is uncircumcised (uncut), pull back the foreskin before rolling the condom down. Unroll the condom slowly all the way down the shaft of the penis, making sure to remove any air bubbles and inspect for holes. Have a spare condom handy, just in case. Use only water-based lubricants. Also apply water-based lubricant to the vagina or anus in addition to the lubrication applied to the outside of the condom to further reduce the chance of breakage.
After ejaculation, carefully pull the penis out while it is still erect, hold onto the base of the condom to prevent slipping. Be careful not to spill the semen. Dispose of the used condom. Never re-use condoms!
Is the blood supply safe? Back To Top
The United States blood supply is among the safest in the world. In 1985, technology made it possible to test donated blood for HIV. Virtually all people infected with HIV through blood transfusion or blood products received them before 1985. Potential blood donors must undergo strict screening test prior to being accepted as donors.
Anyone that is determined to be at high risk for HIV is rejected. Blood and blood products are carefully tested and are safely disposed of if they prove to contain the HIV virus. At the present time, the risk of HIV transmission through receiving a blood transfusion or blood products in the United States is very rare and continues to become more infrequent even in areas with high prevalence of HIV.
What does an "HIV-positive" test result mean? Back To Top
A positive test result means your body has been infected by the human immunodeficiency virus - and that you are capable of transmitting it to others. The test did not look for the actual virus itself, but found evidence of it in your blood. There's no way to tell from this result who gave you the virus, how long you've had it, or when it will begin to affect your health. You may see or hear the results called "HIV-positive," "HIV+," "HIV-antibody positive," or "seropositive for HIV." These terms all mean the same thing. People who have been infected with the human immunodeficiency virus are said to have "HIV disease." While the virus itself is not a disease, it progressively damages the body's immune system. This puts you at risk for developing illnesses you wouldn't otherwise get.
At this time, doctors don't know of any way to rid the body of HIV. There is no cure. Once you've been infected, you have it for life.
How does HIV harm the body? Back To Top
Viruses tend to be specialists. They zero in on a few particular types of cells in the body and move in. The human immunodeficiency virus is best known for targeting the T cells of the immune system. However, it can also attack cells of the brain, nervous system, digestive system, lymphatic system, and other parts of the body.
The immune system is made up of specialized cells in the bloodstream that fight off invading germs to keep the body healthy. The "T" cells (also referred to as "T4," "helper-T," or "CD4" cells) are the brains of the operation. These white blood cells identify invaders and give orders to soldier-type cells, which then battle various bacteria, viruses, cancers, fungi, and parasites that can make a person sick.
Like all viruses, HIV is only interested in one thing: reproducing itself. Once it has attacked and moved into a T cell, it converts that cell into a miniature virus factory. Eventually there are so many new viruses in the cell that the T cell explodes, scattering the HIV back into the bloodstream. The virus then moves on to fresh T cells and repeats the process. Over time, HIV can destroy virtually all of an infected person's T cells in this manner.
With fewer and fewer "leaders" to rely on for warnings, the "soldier" cells become powerless. They can no longer recognize and fight off common organisms that would not present a problem to a healthy immune system. These organisms may be lying dormant in the body already, or may enter from outside. The immune system's weakness gives them the opportunity to wake up, multiply, and cause illness. Thus, we call these illnesses "opportunistic infections." People with fully functioning immune systems are almost never troubled by these particular infections -- but those with damaged immune systems are highly vulnerable to them.
How much time do I have before I get sick? Back To Top
One of the most important determining factors in whether or not a person will get sick largely depends on how soon in the disease progression they seek medical care. But, everyone with HIV will have a different experience. Those who do not receive drug therapy will increase their chances of becoming ill. A few men and women won't have any HIV-related symptoms at all. They may only come down with an AIDS-defining illness years down the road when their T cells are almost gone -- if ever. Others will face a continuing series of non-life-threatening symptoms (rashes, fungal infections, diarrhea) as the virus gradually weakens their immune system.
Based on past experience, most people who test positive for HIV will likely fall somewhere in between these two illness extremes. They can expect to have a few symptoms here and there over a number of years before being diagnosed with "frank" (or "full-blown" or "classic") AIDS. Symptoms won't show up on any set schedule or in any particular order.....
Experts now say the average length of time between infection with the virus and diagnosis of the first serious AIDS-related illness is 10-15 years. Though no one knows exactly why, a large percentage of women, infants, and the elderly seem to become ill sooner.
However, keep in mind that these "predictions" apply to the group of HIV-infected people as a whole. You as an individual may have a very different outlook. A lot can depend on your general state of health at the time you got the virus, how long you've had it -- and how aggressively you decide to fight it now. Only time will tell what your own experience will be.
What if I already have AIDS? Back To Top
If you've already been diagnosed with AIDS, you may be sick now, but that doesn't mean you'll stay sick. With proper treatment, opportunistic infections can clear up and you could feel fine again (although you will, medically speaking, still have AIDS). Average life expectancy for people with AIDS varies widely. There are people who have lived with the disease for 20 years or more.
The key thing to remember is, an HIV-positive test result or diagnosis of AIDS is not an automatic, immediate "death sentence." There are drugs and other preventive measures you can take to help increase your chances for staying well. With good medical care and a positive mental attitude, you can "survive and thrive" for years to come.
Doesn't AIDS kill you? Back To Top
While the virus itself does not cause death, the opportunistic infections it allows are often lethal. Without therapy, the HIV virus is nearly 100% fatal.
In the past several years, however, critical advances in knowledge, drugs, and treatment philosophies have had a great impact on the life expectancy of HIV-positive individuals. Today, hundreds of thousands of HIV-positive men and women live long and productive lives thanks to new therapy regimens. But it is important to note that there is no cure for HIV. HIV therapies can be expensive and difficult to take, often resulting in severe, and in some cases, debilitating side effects. Not everyone benefits from HIV therapy. While there remains hope for people living with HIV, it is critical for every person, HIV-positive or negative, to practice prevention. For more information on national treatment guidelines, please click here.