HIV is the virus that causes AIDS. The HIV virus is what is transmitted from one person to another. Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS) is the condition that develops when HIV weakens the immune system to the point that it can no longer fight off diseases and infections. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) defines an AIDS diagnosis as a CD4 lymphocyte count of less than 200 cells per cubic millimeter of blood (compared with about 1,000 CD4 cells for healthy people).
How is HIV spread?
HIV is spread from person to person through infected blood, semen, vaginal fluid, or breast milk. Learn more about which body fluids can transmit HIV.
What are the symptoms of HIV?
The first stage of HIV, known as the primary or acute HIV infection, usually occurs within 6-12 weeks after a person has been infected with HIV. The initial infection usually yields “flu-like” symptoms such as fever, chills, night sweats, and rashes. Some people can actually be infected for years before they ever get the symptoms.
What are the symptoms of AIDS?
The symptoms of AIDS appear in the form of “opportunistic infections,” which are infections and diseases that have the opportunity to take over the body when the immune system is weakened by AIDS. Opportunistic infections appear in different forms for different people. Some common opportunistic infections are:
Thrush (fungal infection)
How long does it take for HIV to become AIDS?
Without treatment, it usually takes 7-10 years for HIV to become an AIDS diagnosis. With treatment, it is possible to remain HIV positive without developing AIDS.
How long after a possible exposure should I be tested for HIV?
It takes the human body three to six months to “seroconvert,” or recognize the HIV virus in such a way that it would appear positive in a blood test. The amount of time between transmission and seroconversion is called the “window period.” For the most accurate results, it is best to wait until the three-to-six month window period has passed to get tested.
How does the HIV test work?
There are three different kinds of HIV test:
The HIV Antibody Test
This is the most traditional HIV test. It is performed by drawing blood or through “Orasure,” a painless method that takes an oral sample with a special cotton pad.
Oraquick, or the “Rapid Test”
Provides results within 20 minutes, as well as same day counseling. May require a second test to confirm.
Viral Load Test
People who already know they are HIV positive take this test later in the continuum of the virus to find out how much of the virus is in their bloodstream.
Are my results private?
Yes. All HIV test results are confidential. You have the option to take an “anonymous test” or a “confidential test.” An anonymous test means your name is not attached to your test, so you are the only one who knows your results. A confidential test is also private, but your health care provider has access to the results and therefore it will appear in your medical file.
What do the test results mean?
If You Are Positive…
If you test “Positive,” it means that you are infected with HIV. A positive diagnosis also means that you can spread the virus to others if do not take precautions. You will not die from HIV, but you should seek medical attention immediately.
If You Are Negative…
If you test “Negative,” it means that you were not carrying HIV antibodies at the time of the test. However, it does not necessarily mean that you are not infected with HIV. If you took the test during the “window period”-the period of time between transmission and your body’s recognition of the virus-it might just be too early for a test to detect HIV in your bloodstream. For the most accurate results, wait three to six months after suspected transmission to get tested. If you do test negative, just remember that you can still become infected in the future and you must remain careful.
If my test comes back HIV Positive, does that mean that I will die?
No. You can live a full, healthy life with HIV if you seek medical help, take good care of yourself, and stick to a treatment plan.
What do I do if I learn that I am positive?
First, take a deep breath. A positive HIV diagnosis does not mean you are dying. But you should seek medical help as soon as possible. Even if you feel fine, it’s important to gather information and connect with an HIV professional so you can make informed decisions for your future. Also, be sure to connect with others. Learning that you are HIV positive can be an isolating experience, but you are not alone. Find an HIV/AIDS community in your area where counseling and support groups are available. Think it through before you decide who you want to tell about your status, and make sure you feel comfortable with your choices. Inform your current and previous partners so they can get tested, too.
Do all people who have HIV eventually develop AIDS?
We don’t know yet. We have only known about HIV/AIDS for thirty years, and highly active antiretroviral therapy (HAART), the treatment that has helped extend the lives of thousands of people living with HIV/AIDS, has only been on the market since 1996. It will take more time and exploration of HAART and other new treatments for us to be able to determine whether or not HIV always means AIDS.
Is there a cure for HIV/AIDS?
Not yet. The variety and effectiveness of HIV treatments have made amazing progress since the virus first appeared in the early 1980’s, but there is no cure or vaccine for HIV/AIDS at this time. The good news is that there are experts and scientists all around the world dedicating their lives to finding a cure.
How many people in the United States are living with HIV?
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimate that around 1.1 million people in the U.S. are living with HIV.