The Body: The Complete HIV/AIDS Resource
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HIV/AIDS: Frequently Asked Questions

Programs That Provide Access to Healthcare and Treatment for People Living With HIV


Q. What Is HIV/AIDS?

A. HIV (Human Immunodeficiency ["im-you-no-de-fish-en-see"] Virus -- is the virus that causes AIDS (Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome). HIV attacks and kills the cells in our bodies that keep us from getting diseases. This makes people with HIV get illnesses that healthy people do not get. When a person with HIV gets very sick from pneumonia, some kinds of cancer, and other life-threatening diseases, they are said to have AIDS. AIDS is a fatal disease. Here is more information on HIV/AIDS.

  • HIV/AIDS is a sexually transmitted disease (STD). This means that you can get HIV/AIDS by having sex with someone who already has HIV/AIDS. The disease can be passed to another person through contact with blood, semen, vaginal fluid, and breast milk. HIV can be passed by sharing needles used to take drugs, from a pregnant woman to her unborn baby, and by a mother to her baby when breast feeding. Men can pass the disease to other men and women. Women can pass the disease to other women and men.
  • HIV/AIDS affects people of all ages, colors, religious backgrounds, and income and education levels. As of 1998, there were over 688,000 cases of AIDS reported in the United States. Women make up the fastest-growing group of people with AIDS, especially younger women and women of color.
  • There is no cure for HIV/AIDS. The virus stays in your body for life. However, having HIV is not the same as having AIDS. Testing positive for HIV means that your blood has signs of the virus that causes AIDS. Many people with HIV do not get the signs of AIDS for eight to ten years.

Q. What Are the Signs of HIV/AIDS?

A. The signs of HIV/AIDS are:
  • many yeast infections,
  • pelvic inflammatory disease (PID),
  • abnormal Pap smears (showing unhealthy changes in cervical cells),
  • genital warts and ulcers,
  • genital herpes,
  • swollen lymph glands in the neck, underarm, or genital area,
  • many fevers including "night sweats",
  • losing weight for no reason,
  • loss of appetite,
  • tired all the time,
  • diarrhea, and
  • white spots in the mouth.
Some women with HIV/AIDS have no signs of the disease. Other women do not show any signs of HIV/AIDS until many years after they were infected.


Q. How Is HIV/AIDS Treated?

A. HIV/AIDS is treated with two groups of medicines. One group of medicines is used to slow the spread of the virus. The other group of medicines is used to fight illnesses that are caused by a weakened immune system. These medicines cannot cure HIV/AIDS, but they do help people live a healthier life for a longer period of time than if they did not take any medicine. Finding and treating HIV/AIDS early is the best way to take care of yourself.

Q. What Happens if HIV/AIDS Isn't Treated?

A. Most people with untreated HIV/AIDS get sick more quickly than people taking HIV/AIDS medicine.

Q. Do Women With HIV/AIDS Have More Chance of Getting Other Health Problems?

A. Yes. Women with HIV/AIDS have more chance of getting pelvic inflammatory disease (PID), sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), and cervical cancer. Women with HIV/AIDS should be checked for these diseases every year. Doctors say that women with HIV/AIDS should have a Pap smear two times a year.

Q. How Do I Find Out if I Have HIV/AIDS?

A. Get a blood test. The first test shows if you have signs of HIV in your blood. A second blood test will be done to check the results of the first blood test. Having two blood tests helps make sure the "positive for HIV" or "negative for HIV" results are right.

Q. Can HIV/AIDS Cause Problems During Pregnancy?

A. Yes. A pregnant woman can pass HIV/AIDS to her baby before or during birth. Also a mother can pass HIV/AIDS on to her baby through breast-feeding. About one out of four babies get HIV/AIDS from their mothers. The drug zidovudine (also known as AZT) is given to pregnant women with HIV/AIDS to lower their chances of passing the infection to their babies. Doctors say that all pregnant women should be tested for HIV/AIDS.

Q. How Can I Keep From Getting HIV/AIDS?

A. HIV/AIDS cannot be cured. That is why it is so important to keep from getting it in the first place. Here are ways to keep from getting HIV/AIDS.

  1. Do not have sex (intercourse, oral, or anal).
  2. If you have sex:
    • use a condom (also use a condom for oral and anal sex);
    • have sex with only one uninfected person - do not have multiple partners
    • ask your sex partner(s) if he or she has HIV/AIDS or other STDs, has had sex with someone who had HIV/AIDS or other STDs, or has sores, rashes, or discharge in the genital area.
  3. Do not share needles if you use drugs.
  4. Do not share razors or anything that might touch blood, semen, or vaginal fluids of an infected person.

Q. How Can I Take Care of Myself and Others if I Have HIV/AIDS?

A. Here are ways to take care of yourself and others.

  1. Do not have sex (intercourse, oral, or anal).
  2. Use a condom if you have sex. Use a condom for intercourse, and oral and anal sex.
  3. Tell your sex partner(s) that you have HIV/AIDS so that they can be tested and treated right away.
  4. Take all your medicine for your HIV/AIDS.
  5. See your doctor for regular check-ups.
  6. Do not share needles if you use drugs.
  7. Do not share razors or anything that might touch blood, semen, or vaginal fluids.
  8. Do not breast feed your baby.
  9. Do not give blood.

Q. What Can You Tell Me About Women and AIDS Research?

A. More women are now taking part in AIDS clinical trials across the country. Studies are looking at the signs of HIV/AIDS in women and how HIV/AIDS is passed to babies. Also, doctors are testing creams and gels that women can use to protect themselves from getting HIV/AIDS. If you want more information about AIDS clinical trials, call the AIDS Clinical Trials Information Service, (800) TRIALS-A.

For More Information ...

You can find out more about AIDS and HIV by contacting the National Women's Health Information Center (800-994-9662) or the following organizations:

CDC National AIDS Hotline Phone:
(800) 342-AIDS
Internet Address:

CDC National Prevention Information Network Phone:
(800) 458-5231
Internet Address:

HIV/AIDS Treatment Service Phone:
Internet Address:

National Center for HIV, STD and TB Prevention Phone:
888-232-3228 (Information Line)
Internet Address:

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See Also
Quiz: Are You at Risk for HIV?
Ten Common Fears About HIV Transmission
Visit Our "Ask the Experts" Forum on HIV Risk and Transmission
HIV Transmission Q&A
More Frequently Asked Questions About HIV and AIDS