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STEP 1: Getting Smart About HIV
Part of HIV and Me: An African American's Guide to Living With HIV

January 2011

Step 1: Getting Smart About HIV

Once you find out that you are HIV positive, one of the most important things you can do is get informed.

Tree Alexander

"I want to help relieve some of the stigma because I remember testing positive and wanting to tell people.

"I was afraid of what my family would say. Would I be blamed or would I have a support system? I needed support, because I didn't really understand what HIV was. I had to educate and inform myself."

-- Tree Alexander, diagnosed in 2006

To read more about Tree, click here.

THE FACTS ABOUT HIV: There are thousands of different viruses in the world. Some are just annoying, like the viruses that cause colds. Others, like HIV or the hepatitis C virus, can cause serious, even lifethreatening, illnesses. By taking care of your body -- which includes taking HIV medications that can control HIV -- you can prevent many HIV-related illnesses.

WHAT HIV DOES TO YOUR BODY: HIV invades your body because it needs a living organism to reproduce. The reason HIV is dangerous is that it sets up shop in your immune system, your body's natural defense against disease. It especially targets your "CD4 cells," also called "T cells." HIV takes command of these cells -- like a pirate taking over a ship -- and uses them to reproduce itself, creating millions of new viruses every day.

Unfortunately, these CD4 cells are the very cells that your body uses to fight infections, so when HIV takes them over, it weakens your immune system.

The stronger your immune system, the longer it can keep up the fight against HIV. If you treat your immune system well -- especially by reducing stress, avoiding alcohol and not smoking cigarettes or using recreational drugs -- your immune system may be able to keep HIV in check for years.

But even if you treat your body well, HIV can still eventually get the upper hand. Then it's time to call in the big guns: HIV medications.

We'll talk more about CD4 counts and HIV medications later in the booklet. First let's dispel some myths about HIV.

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