What exactly is HIV?
HIV stands for Human Immunodeficiency Virus. It is the virus that causes AIDS. HIV attacks the immune system, making the body vulnerable to illness and infection. The virus is passed from one person to another through blood, semen, vaginal secretions and breast milk. There is no cure or vaccine for HIV.
What is AIDS?
HIV is NOT AIDS. AIDS stands for Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome. It is a serious condition that develops when the immune system is no longer able to fight off certain infections. These “opportunistic infections” take advantage of an immune system severely weakened by HIV. Modern medicines and treatment can prevent HIV positive individuals from acquiring AIDS, allowing them to live longer than ever before.
Some illnesses or infections that can occur in people with AIDS are:
o Cervical cancer (invasive)
o Kaposis sarcoma (KS)
o Lymphoma characterized by swollen lymph nodes (lymphadenopathy)
o Pneumocystis carinii pneumonia (PCP)
o Pneumonia (recurrent)
o Toxoplasmosis of the brain
o Wasting syndrome
How do people get HIV?
HIV is transmitted from person to person through blood, semen, vaginal fluids, or breast milk. You can be infected with HIV through:
o unprotected vaginal, anal, or oral sex with someone who is infected with HIV.
o sharing needles or syringes for any reason that have been used by someone who has HIV.
o A mother who is HIV-positive can pass the virus along to her baby during pregnancy, childbirth, or breastfeeding.
How do you prevent HIV infection?
o Abstain from having sex or using drugs.
o If you choose to have sex, use a latex condom every time. Use a condom for every act of vaginal or anal sex. You can use a condom or a dental dam for oral sex. Always use a water-based lubricant (like KY or Astroglide) when using a latex condom. Do not use oil-based lubricants (like baby oil and lotion). Oil based lubricants can make tiny tears in a condom or cause it to break. Female condoms can also be used for vaginal and anal sex. The female condom is made of polyurethane (a type of plastic). It is shaped like a tube, with a flexible ring at each end. One end is closed.
o If you use a syringe or needle for any reason, use a sterile syringe and needle every time you inject. Never share needles or works with anyone. Learn more about getting sterile syringes in Illinois here.
What’s the connection between alcohol, drugs and HIV/AIDS?
Alcohol and drugs can make it harder to make healthy choices about sex and sharing needles. If someone is drunk or high, they may do things that put them at risk for HIV—like have unprotected sex. Being drunk or high also makes people more vulnerable to sexual assault. Although sexual assault is never the victims fault, alcohol and drugs can leave people less able to defend themselves. Sexual assault can expose people to HIV and other sexually transmitted infections.
Sharing needles to inject drugs increases the risk of HIV infection and other illnesses.
What are the symptoms of HIV?
Many people with HIV have no signs or symptoms. People can look and feel healthy and be infected.
Some people may experience flu-like symptoms two to four weeks after infection.
The following symptoms may show up several months to several years after contact with HIV:
o rapid weight loss
o dry cough
o recurring fever or profuse night sweats
o unexplained tiredness or fatigue
o swollen lymph glands in the armpits, groin, or neck
o diarrhea that lasts for more than a week
o white spots or unusual blemishes on the tongue, in the mouth, or in the throat
However, no one should assume they are infected if they have any of these symptoms as they can be related to other illnesses. The only way to determine whether you are infected is to be tested for HIV. For more information on HIV testing, visit the testing page on this website.
WANT TO KNOW THE SCIENCE BEHIND HIV? Click here.