HIV and AIDS Frequently Asked Questions

HIV stands for Human Immunodeficiency Virus. HIV is a virus that attacks cells that help the body fight infection, making a person more vulnerable to other infections and diseases. If left untreated, HIV can lead to AIDS. 

AIDS stands for Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome. AIDS is the late stage of HIV infection that occurs when the body’s immune system is unable to fight off infections. Most people with HIV do not develop AIDS because taking HIV medication every day as prescribed stops the progression of the disease. 

You can only be exposed to HIV by coming in direct contact with certain body fluids, from a person living with HIV who has a detectable viral load. There are 5 body fluids that transmit HIV, blood, Semen (cum and pre-cum), rectal fluids, vaginal fluids, and breast milk.  For transmission to occur, the HIV in one of these fluids must get into the bloodstream of an HIV-negative person through mucous membrane microtears (found in the rectum, vagina, mouth, or tip of the penis); open cuts or sores from STI/STD’s; or by direct injection. 

You cannot acquire HIV from: 

Someone who has an undetectable viral load, coughing, sneezing, touching someone, sharing household items, swimming in the same pool as someone living with HIV, mosquito bites, toilet seats, telephones, sweat, saliva, or tears. 

Becoming educated about HIV and understanding how it is transmitted, and ways to prevent the spread of HIV. It is essential for people to make informed decisions about the level of risk they are willing to take, based on what is realistic for them. Abstaining from sex and not sharing injection equipment is the most effective way for people to protect themselves from HIV and other sexually transmitted infections. However, abstinence is not the only option. Using condoms and dental dams, reducing the number of sexual partners and talking about your sexual health are also effective.

When thinking of getting tested for HIV, there are a few important things to consider: 

  • Window Period: When having a HIV antibody/antigen test, there must be at least a three-week time period between the time a person was last potentially exposed to HIV and the time that he/she gets a test done. Some people call this the “window period”. The HIV test is looking for antibodies/antigens, which are the body’s response to having HIV in your blood. 
  • Anonymous vs. Confidential Tests: An anonymous test does not require an individual to provide their name at the time of testing, while a confidential test does require a name. In either case, written consent from the patient is the only way the results will be released, and otherwise will be kept private. Doctors’ offices use confidential testing while the Pima County Health Department offers both confidential and anonymous testing. SAAF offers confidential testing. 
  • Standard vs. Rapid Testing: A standard HIV test refers to a blood draw, typically done at a doctor’s office. Results are usually received within 5 to 10 business days. Rapid tests involve a finger prick and results are given in 21 minutes at SAAF. 

Cost: Depending on where you get tested, either insurance will cover the cost, pricing may be based on a sliding-scale which will depend on your income, or you may be able to get a free test.

Yes. HIV tests detect specific antibodies and antigens your body produces if exposed to HIV. These tests are more than 99% accurate and a confirmatory test is conducted to determine a reactive rapid test result. HIV tests are available that use a small blood sample or saliva.

No. There is no vaccine or cure. Scientists around the world have been working on vaccines and cures for several decades now, but the outlook for a cure or vaccination is still in the future.

Although HIV cannot be cured, it can be managed. This means the virus can be kept from rapidly replicating in the body so that it does not damage the immune system. The first step you should take is to see a doctor, even if you do not feel sick. Try to find a doctor who has experience treating HIV. There are many new drugs to treat HIV infection and help you maintain your health. These drugs are called anti-retroviral therapy (ART).

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) definition of AIDS, initially published in 1986 and revised in 1993, is based on certain clinical conditions, infections, and malignancies associated with HIV infection (called “opportunistic” infections to indicate that they arise in the setting of immune impairment). Additionally, AIDS may be defined by a T cell (CD4) count of less than 200, even in the absence of an opportunistic infection. People living with HIV who progress to having an AIDS diagnosis can continue living well and healthy by changing unhealthy behaviors and going on HIV antiretroviral therapy.

This is the main type of treatment for HIV or AIDS. It is not a cure, but it can stop people from becoming ill for many years. The treatment consists of medication that must be taken every day for the rest of someone’s life. To understand more about this treatment, you need to have some basic knowledge of HIV and AIDS. Antiretroviral therapy for an HIV infection consists of medication which work against HIV infection itself by slowing down the replication of HIV in the body. Currently there are many new HIV medications available to control HIV infection. HIV medications fall into several groups, or “classes.” Each class attacks HIV a little differently and has fewer risks and more benefits when monitored by your physician. To maximize the impact against HIV, a treatment regimen is made up of medications from different classes. 

As with all medications there are possible side effects, please be sure to consult your doctor about any potential side effect before starting any medication.

U=U stands for Undetectable=Untransmittable.  U=U means that people living with HIV who achieve and maintain an undetectable viral load.  The amount of viral load (HIV) in the body is lowered to a point it cannot be sexually transmitted to others.  This is done by taking antiretroviral therapy (ART) medication daily as prescribed. 

Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis (PrEP) is recommended as an HIV prevention strategy. PrEP medication, when used as prescribed reduces the risk of acquiring HIV through sexual contact by 99%. Three medications, Truvada (emtricitabine and tenofovir disoproxil fumarate), Descovy (emtricitabine and tenofovir alafenamide) and Cabenuva (cabotegravir and rilpivirine) are approved for use as PrEP medications.

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Post-Exposure Prophylaxis (PEP) is a way to prevent HIV infection after a potential HIV exposure. It involves taking HIV antiretroviral medications (ART) to reduce the risk of HIV transmission. PEP is taken daily for 28 days (4 weeks). If taken as prescribed, it can be effective in reducing the risk of HIV infection.

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