FAQs

What is HIV?

HIV stands for Human Immunodeficiency Virus. HIV is a virus that attacks the human immune system. The human immune system is responsible for finding and killing viruses fairly quickly but HIV attacks the very thing that kills a virus. HIV remains in the body damaging the immune system and the person remains infectious; able to spread the virus to others if precautions are not taken.

How is HIV Transmitted?

HIV is found in the bodily fluids of an infected person (semen and vaginal fluids, blood and breast milk). The virus is passed from one person to another through blood-to-blood and sexual contact. In addition, infected pregnant women can pass HIV to their babies during pregnancy, delivering the baby during childbirth, and through breast feeding.

How is HIV spread through sex?

You can get infected from sexual contact with someone who is infected with HIV. Sexual contact that can transmit HIV includes:

  • vaginal sex (penis in the vagina)
  • anal sex (penis in the anus of either a man or a woman)
  • oral sex (penis in the mouth)

If you have sex, the best thing to do is to practice “safer sex” all the time. To do so, always use a condom, dental dam, or other latex barrier and avoid “rough sex” or other activities that might cause bleeding.

HIV is NOT spread by:

  • hugging or massage
  • shaking hands
  • daily living with someone who has HIV
  • dry kissing

What is AIDS?

AIDS means Acquired immune deficiency syndrome or acquired immunodeficiency syndrome. It is a syndrome caused by the virus HIV. The illness alters the immune system, making people much more vulnerable to infections and diseases. This susceptibility worsens as the syndrome progresses.

AIDS is the final stage of HIV infection and not everyone who has HIV advances to this stage. People at this stage of HIV disease have badly damaged immune systems, which put them at risk for opportunistic infections (OI’s). These infections are called “opportunistic” because they take advantage of your weakened immune system, and they can cause devastating illnesses. You are considered to have progressed to AIDS if you have one or more specific OIs, certain cancers, or a very low number of CD4 cells. If you have AIDS, you will need medical intervention and treatment to prevent death.

How does HIV cause AIDS?

HIV destroys a certain kind of blood cell (CD4+ T cells), which is crucial to the normal function of the human immune system. AIDS is a disease caused by HIV. HIV infects cells of the human immune system and destroys or impairs their function. Infection with this virus leads to slow destruction of a persons’ immune system making them more susceptible to many kinds of infections. Once a person with HIV develops any one of a number of rare infections or cancers – tuberculosis, pneumonia, candidiases or tumors – they are said to have AIDS. This most often occurs 10-15 years after a person becomes infected with HIV.

Since 1996, the introduction of powerful anti-retroviral therapies has dramatically changed the progression time between HIV infection and the development of AIDS. There are also other medical treatments that can prevent some of the illnesses associated with AIDS, though the treatments do not cure AIDS itself. Because of these advances in drug therapies and other medical treatments, estimates of how many people will develop AIDS and how soon are being recalculated, revised, or are currently under study.

How can I prevent myself from contracting HIV?

One is safest of all if he/she does not indulge in penetrative sexual intercourse. One is also safe if he/she is not in a stable relationship where both the partners are free of HIV and neither of them has any other sex partners. One can have a great deal of stimulation and pleasure through caressing, hugging, kissing, and massaging different parts of the body.

Always use a condom correctlywhen having vaginal or anal sex. You may also want to use a condom or dental dam during oral sex although the risk of transmission of HIV is much lower. You can get free condoms from a sexual health clinic like the National Aids Program office or even Health Centres. Never share needles, syringes or any other injecting equipment.

Is there a cure for HIV or AIDS?

No, there is no cure for HIV or AIDS. However, there are medicines that fight HIV and help people with HIV and AIDS live longer, healthier lives.

How many people are living with HIV and AIDS?

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), as of 2013 there were an estimated 35 million persons living with HIV and AIDS worldwide. Of these, 31.8 million were adults, and 3.2 million were under age 15. The overwhelming majority of persons with HIV live in resource-poor countries.

Does having a sexually transmitted disease (STD) affect my risk of getting HIV?

Having an STD, especially herpes or syphilis sores, increases your risk of getting HIV and giving HIV to a partner. Other STDs, like gonorrhea or chlamydia, also increase your risk of becoming infected with HIV.

STDs change the cells that line the vagina, penis, rectum, or mouth, which can cause open sores to develop. These sores make it easier for HIV to enter the body. Any inflammation or sore caused by an STD also makes it easier for HIV to enter the bloodstream during sexual contact. If you already have an STD, you are more likely to get infected with HIV during unprotected sex with someone who has HIV.

Can a woman who has HIV pass the virus to her baby?

A woman who has HIV can pass the virus to her baby during:

  • pregnancy;
  • delivery; or
  • breastfeeding.

There are medicines that women with HIV should take during pregnancy, labor, and delivery and that can be given to their babies just after birth, to greatly reduce the chance that their babies will become infected with HIV. It is best for women to know their HIV status before they become pregnant or very early in their pregnancy so that they can make informed decisions and take full advantage of these medicines. Since HIV is also found in breast milk, women with HIV should not breastfeed their babies

Who should get tested for HIV?

All persons between the ages of 13 and 64, regardless of apparent risk should be tested for HIV. You are strongly encouraged to accept testing; it may provide you with important information about your health and staying healthy.

Testing is voluntary and can be done without giving your name at a public testing center (anonymous testing). By law, HIV test results and other related information are kept confidential (private). Discrimination based on a person’s HIV status is illegal. People who are discriminated against can get help.

If I decide to get a test, does the person I had sex with need to get tested, too?

The test will tell you only about yourself. Your sexual partner could still have HIV, even if your test is negative, so your sexual partner should be tested also.

What happens if my test is positive?

If you test positive, the sooner you take steps to protect your health, the better. Early medical treatment, a healthy lifestyle and a positive attitude can help you stay well. Prompt medical care may delay the onset of AIDS and prevent some life-threatening conditions. Also, learning as much as you can about the disease will help you fight it.

See a doctor, even if you don’t feel sick. Try to find a doctor who has experience treating HIV. There are now many new drugs to treat HIV infection as well as important tests and immunizations that can help you maintain good health.