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What Is HIV?

August 2, 2015

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Do I Need to Get Tested for HIV?

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:

  • Have you ever had penile-vaginal, oenile-anal, or oral sex without a condom or other latex barrier (e.g., dental dam)? Note: oral sex is a very low risk activity. Vaginal and anal sex are much higher risk.
  • Are you uncertain of your partner's status or is your partner living with HIV?
  • Are you pregnant or considering becoming pregnant?
  • Have you ever had a sexually transmitted disease (STD)?
  • Do you have hepatitis C (HCV)?
  • Have you ever shared needles, syringes, or other equipment to inject drugs (including steroids or hormones)?

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.


Why Should I Get Tested?

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 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.

How Is HIV Spread?

HIV is spread primarily through contact with the following body fluids:

  • Blood (including menstrual blood)
  • Semen (“cum”) and other male sexual fluids ("pre-cum")
  • Vaginal fluids
  • Breast milk

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:

  • Sweat
  • Tears
  • Saliva (spit)
  • Feces (poop)
  • Urine (pee)

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.

Is There a Vaccine or Cure for 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.

Additional Information

As you learn more about HIV, you may find these articles helpful:

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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 to ensure all people have access to the highest quality treatment information available. The Well Project receives no advertising revenue from or the advertisers on this site. No advertiser on this site has any editorial input into The Well Project's content.

Reader Comments:

Comment by: mwenda alex (laare) Wed., Aug. 26, 2015 at 5:40 pm EDT
creating awearness is the best protection than any other mean but if we people we are ready to listen and follow
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Comment by: Worried (Citizen) Wed., Aug. 5, 2015 at 9:16 am EDT
I have had unprotected sex with a girl before 4 weeks. Its not even sex if you think about it. I Could not penetrate her Vagina but was rubbing on it until i ejaculated. Now, 4 weeks later i had symptoms of headache followed by stuffed nose, sneezes, followed by bright red rash on my arm, ears and torso. I felt also a mild fever later on. Could i be showing window period HIV symptoms??
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Comment by: samaria (khotsong) Wed., Jul. 15, 2015 at 11:23 am EDT
My husband tasted hiv posetive but itested nagative in15 monts
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Comment by: Baktash (Sacramento) Fri., May. 22, 2015 at 8:58 pm EDT
I have been exposed to oral sex and I don't know the status of that person. Four days after I felt mild sore throat, five days after I started rhinorrhea. , am I infected or no ? Plz give me dime information because I even can't sleep for long hours in the night .
And also they says there is an RNA test which can detect after 9 days of infection is that correct ?
Thank you
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Comment by: mugaite c. (Kampala Uganda) Thu., Jan. 24, 2013 at 8:24 am EST
many thanks for your educative information on your website.
Am called mugaite charles, from kampala Uganda East Africa,please help send to us more information about HIV AIDS,am postive living, biomedical technician professionally,

I,m working with ST. LWANGA BIOMEDICAL TECHNICAL CENTRE has workshop engineer for medical equipments.

I,m the General secretray of UNITY FOR HOPE MEETUP CLUB.

The unity for hope meetup club, is for HIV AIDS positive group, we do meetup every sunday evening at 4:30pm-6:30pm,we have ARVS study class every thursday evening at 7:00pm-8:30pm,

so i encourage brethren to help us with more study guides for the Ugandan community living with HIV AIDS.

How do we teach the community?

We are connected to the internet, and we use computer projector.
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