Frequently Asked Questions about HIV

What is HIV?

Human Immunodeficiency virus is the virus that causes AIDS (Acquired Immune Deficiency Virus). This virus causes severe health problems and death by weakening a person’s immune system. Weakened immune systems cause a person’s body to be unable to fight infections and cancer. Having HIV does not guarantee that you will have AIDS. People can go for years with HIV before they develop AIDs if they do at all.

What are the Symptoms of HIV?

Some people with HIV exhibit flu-like symptoms during the four-week period after exposure to the virus. That symptom may disappear for years. Men and women may both develop an oral yeast infection. Women may develop acute vaginal yeast infections as well as other pelvic inflammations and diseases. One of the earliest symptoms a person with HIV may have is Shingles.

Other symptoms of HIV and AIDS include:

  • Fatigue.
  • Constant fever.
  • Night sweats.
  • Feeling like you have the flu frequently.
  • Weight loss.
  • Swollen glands.
  • An oral yeast infection.

Who Should Be Tested for HIV?

The CDC recommends that everyone over 18 is tested at least one time in their lives for HIV. People who have multiple sexual partners use IV or needle drugs, and pregnant women should all be tested for HIV more often than once per year. Anyone exposed to HIV through a stick from a potentially infected needle should be tested. If you experience a blood borne pathogen exposure, and you don’t know if the source has HIV, you should still be tested for HIV for safety's sake.

What Tests Diagnose HIV?

Taking an HIV test is the only way to discover whether or not you have HIV. HIV tests can be done in a doctor’s office or clinic. Speak to your physician for an HIV if you are concerned that you may have been exposed to the virus. HIV tests are strictly confidential and private. Check with the clinic about their HIV test privacy rules and regulations before you have your HIV test taken. Several varieties of types of blood tests can be used to determine whether or not you have HIV.

How do You Contract HIV?

Certain behaviors increase your chances of contracting HIV. These behaviors are:

  • Having unprotected sex with an infected person.
  • Sharing needles with drug abusers or steroid users who have HIV or AIDS. Improperly cleaned needles used in tattooing or body piercing can also give a person HIV.
  • Getting blood transfusions from a person infected with HIV. HIV rarely is contracted from blood transfusions in the United States or Western Europe, as blood is all tested before it is used for transfusions.
  • Babies who have mothers with HIV may contract HIV. Babies whose HIV-infected mothers breastfeed them may also contract HIV.

Can HIV Be Cured or Treated?

There is no cure for HIV or AIDS. If you are positive for HIV, you will most likely have several medications prescribed to slow the progress of the disease and give you a better quality of life. HAART drugs, which are a combination of several drugs, are the drugs of choice for HIV treatment. HAART stands for highly active antiretroviral therapy.

HAART drugs need to be taken in the right doses at the right time of the day, every day. Side effects from the drugs include:

  • Upset stomach.
  • Nausea.
  • Red, irritated skin.
  • Nightmares.
  • The virus may mutate if the medication is not taken correctly.

While the side effects are sometimes inconvenient, the alternative may be increased illness, AIDS, and death.

How Do I Keep From Contracting HIV?

Avoiding risky activities keeps you from contracting HIV. Risky behaviors are:

  • IV or needle drug use.
  • Using condoms made of animal products.
  • Condom use during vaginal, oral or anal sex.
  • Never share needles.
  • Stay sober. Drunk and high people may participate in risky behaviors against their better judgment.

Develop a good relationship with a healthcare provider, so you will feel more comfortable in asking advice about preventing HIV and HIV testing.