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This is an excerpt from There Is Hope: Learning to Live With HIV, 2nd edition, written by Janice Ferri, with Richard R. Roose and Jill Schwendeman.

What Is HIV?

"HIV" stands for Human Immunodeficiency Virus.

Many people also refer to HIV as the "AIDS virus."

How Is the Virus Transmitted?

HIV lives in blood and other body fluids that contain blood or white blood cells. People have gotten HIV through:
  • unprotected sexual intercourse with an HIV-infected person. This includes vaginal or anal intercourse, and oral sex on a man or woman without a condom or other barrier. Intercourse while a woman is having her period, or during outbreaks of genital sores or lesions (caused by herpes and other sexually transmitted diseases) can increase the risk of HIV transmission.
  • sharing drug injection equipment (needles and/or works); or being accidentally stuck by needles or sharp objects contaminated with infected blood.
  • infected blood used in transfusions, and infected blood products used in the treatment of certain diseases and disorders (like hemophilia), before March, 1985.
  • pregnancy, childbirth, and/or breastfeeding, where the virus is passed from mother to child.
  • transplanted organs from infected donors. (Routine screening of organ donors also began in 1985.)

HIV and AIDS are not transmitted through casual contact (that is, where no blood or body fluids are involved). HIV is what gets passed from person to person. People don't "catch AIDS"; they "become infected with HIV."

What Does an "HIV-Positive" Test Result Mean?

A positive test result means your body has been infected by HIV 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 HIV 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.

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This article was provided by HIV Coalition (HIVCO).
See Also
Quiz: Are You at Risk for HIV?
10 Common Fears About HIV Transmission
Visit Our "Ask the Experts" Forum on HIV Risk and Transmission
HIV Transmission Q&A
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