What Is HIV?
August 2, 2015
The CDC estimates that about one in five people living with HIV in the US do not know they have HIV. Many of these people look and feel healthy and do not think they are at risk. But the truth is that anyone of any age, gender, race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, social group, or economic class can become infected. For more on how HIV is spread, see The Well Project's article on HIV transmission.
To see if you need to get tested for HIV, answer the following questions:
If you answered yes to any of these questions, you should definitely get an HIV test. In the US, it is now recommended that everyone age 13-64 be screened for HIV at least once.
If you are worried because you think you may have been exposed to HIV, get tested. Then, if you learn that you are negative (not infected), you can stop worrying. If you test HIV+ there are effective medications to help you stay well. But you cannot get the health care and treatment you need if you do not know your HIV status (whether you are HIV+ or HIV-negative). Being unaware of your status also means that you could pass HIV to others without knowing it.
For women who plan to become pregnant, testing is especially important. If a woman is infected with HIV, medical care and certain drugs given during pregnancy can lower the chance of passing HIV to her baby. For more information, see The Well Project's article, Pregnancy and HIV.
In the US, you can go to the National HIV and STD Testing Resources website or the AIDS.gov website to find a testing site near you. You can also call the CDC's information line at 800-232-4636 or call your state's HIV/AIDS hotline (numbers listed here). To find services across the world, visit AIDSmap's e-atlas. For more on getting tested for HIV -- types of tests, how they work, and where to get them -- see our article on HIV Testing.
HIV is spread primarily through contact with the following body fluids:
The most common ways that HIV is spread from person-to-person is through unprotected sex (no condoms or other barriers), sharing needles used for injecting drugs, and mother-to-child (during pregnancy, birth, or breast-feeding).
HIV is not spread through contact with these body fluids:
In other words, you CANNOT get HIV by touching or hugging someone who is living with HIV, kissing someone living with HIV, or by using a toilet also used by someone living with HIV.
There is currently neither a vaccine nor a cure for HIV. The best way to prevent HIV is to use consistent prevention methods, including safer sex (choosing low- or no-risk activities, using condoms, taking PrEP) and using sterile needles (for drugs, hormones or tattoos). For more information, see The Well Project's article on AIDS Vaccines.
As you learn more about HIV, you may find these articles helpful:
This article was provided by The Well Project. Visit The Well Project's Web site to learn more about their resources and initiatives for women living with HIV. The Well Project shares its content with TheBody.com to ensure all people have access to the highest quality treatment information available. The Well Project receives no advertising revenue from TheBody.com or the advertisers on this site. No advertiser on this site has any editorial input into The Well Project's content.
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