POZLife: Life from the Infected and Effected point of veiw.

Just The Facts

Posted by pozlife on June 11, 2008


Have questions about HIV and AIDS?  Clink on the links below to find out all about HIV transmittal and what it is like to get an HIV test.

The Facts about HIV and AIDS [en español]

What are HIV and AIDS?
How is HIV Transmitted?
What actions put me at risk?
How do I prevent myself from contracting or transmitting HIV?
Why should I be tested for HIV?
What is involved in HIV testing?
What types of tests are available?
What other STDs should I be concerned about?
What’s going on in current research of HIV?

What are HIV and AIDS?

HIV (Human Immunodeficiency Virus) is a virus that attacks the immune system (the body’s defense against infection). HIV uses healthy white blood cells to replicate itself, breaking down the immune system and leaving the body more susceptible to illness.  Without treatment, most people infected with HIV become less able to fight off germs that we are exposed to every day.  Someone who has HIV is called “HIV positive” or “HIV+”. 

AIDS (Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome) is a late stage of HIV infection. An HIV positive person is diagnosed with AIDS when their immune system is so weakened that it is no longer able to fight off illness. People with immune deficiency are much more vulnerable to infections such as pneumonia and various forms of cancer. These diseases are called opportunistic infections because they take advantage of the weakened immune system. Ultimately, people do not die from AIDS itself, they die from one or more of these opportunistic infections.  It is believed that all people who become HIV+ will eventually have AIDS.

There is no known cure or vaccine for AIDS. While anti-viral medications and healthy behavior can improve the quality and length of life for some people living with AIDS, these treatments do not work for everyone and may cause harmful side effects.

It can take several years before HIV breaks down a person’s immune system and causes AIDS, and people may show few symptoms for several years after they are infected. People who appear perfectly healthy may not know they have the virus and can pass it on to others. 1 out of 4 Americans with HIV do not know they have the virus.  The only way to know if you have HIV is to GET TESTED.

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How is HIV Transmitted?

HIV is transmitted from person to person through the exchange of bodily fluids. While the HIV virus can be found in all bodily fluids of an infected person only these fluids contain a high enough concentration of HIV to transmit the virus:

  • Blood
  • Semen (including pre-cum)
  • Vaginal secretions
  • Breast milk

Modes of Transmission

  • Sexual – unprotected anal, vaginal or oral sex
  • Sharing needles – IV drug use, tattooing, piercing
  • Maternal/Childbefore, during & after birth, including breast-feeding
  • Blood transfusion before 1985
  • Donor Products
  • Job Injury
  • Sharing of Sex Toys

HIV has not been proven transmittable by saliva, urine, feces, sweat, tears, vomit or mucus.

*HIV is NOT transmitted through casual contact including: hugging, kissing, using public toilets, sharing eating utensils, pools or coughing.

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What actions put me at risk for contracting HIV?

The most common ways that people put themselves at risk for HIV infection are engaging in unprotected oral, anal, or vaginal sex, sharing unclean drug paraphanalia like syringes and cookers, or sharing unclean needles used for tattoos and body piercing with a person who is HIV positive or unaware of their HIV status.

The use of drugs and/or alcohol can also put you at risk by making it harder for you to practice safe behavior.

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How do I prevent myself from contracting or transmitting HIV?

  • Abstinence: Simply choose not to have sex. For more information about abstinence, visit www.plannedparenthood.org
  • Latex and Polyurethane Barrier Methods: Use safe sex materials such as male and female condoms, dental dams, and finger cots when engaging in sexual activity.  Do not use male and female condoms at the same time!
  • Needle Exchange/Clean Your Works: Always use new, unused needles or clean your works by flushing the needle and plunger with water and bleach each time you use an intravenous drug syringe. Do not share other IV drug paraphanalia such as cookers cottons/filters, or water glasses.  There are needle exchange programs available in your area where you can exchange used needles for new ones. For more information, visit www.harmreduction.org
  • Tattoos and Piercing: When you get a tattoo or body piercing, use a professional tattooist or piercer who sterilizes all equipment, uses a new disposable needle (a new package should be opened in front of you) and new ink in a disposable container for each customer. Do not use a piercing gun because it cannot be properly sterilized. Keep any tattoo or piercing on your body clean and free from infection.
  • Pregnancy: If you are HIV positive and think you may be pregnant, you should contact your doctor immediately to discuss your options. There are medications that you can take during your pregnancy to reduce your baby’s risk of being HIV positive. For more information, visit www.plannedparenthood.org

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Why should I be tested for HIV?

The CDC has recently recommended that Americans receive routine HIV testing as part of regular preventative health.  Anyone who is participating, or has participated in activities that involve the exchange of HIV transmittable fluids should be tested for HIV. It is important to know your status. If you test negative, you can find out how to keep from getting infected in the future. If you test positive, you can take advantage of the advances in antiviral medications to maintain a healthy lifestyle and learn how to prevent passing HIV to others.

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What is involved in HIV testing?

Most HIV tests actually detect the presence of HIV antibodies, not the virus itself. Antibodies are proteins that are produced in the blood to fight infection. It takes the immune system time to identify the virus and begin producing antibodies. Most people will develop detectable antibodies within two to eight weeks (the average is 25 days) of contracting the virus. Ninety-seven percent will develop antibodies in the first three months following the time of their infection. In very rare cases, it can take up to six months to develop antibodies to HIV. The time between when a person is infected and when the body produces enough antibodies against HIV to be detected is called the window period.

Even if someone tests negative for HIV antibodies, they can still transmit the virus. Once a person is tested for HIV, they have to be tested again 6 months after the last exposure to confirm that they are negative

If the test is negative, the person should return for a follow up test 6 months after the initial test date. The person should abstain from any risky behavior during the 6 month window period to assure accurate results and to reduce the risk of transmission to someone else.

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What types of tests are available?

  • ELISA (Enzyme-Linked Immuno-Sorbent Assay): This is the initial HIV-antibody blood test. If a person gets a positive result, an additional ELISA test will be taken. If the initial test comes back negative, the person will return for a 6-month test after the window period. If this returns negative, no further testing will be done at this time. Results are available in approximately 10 days.
  • Western Blot Test: If the second ELISA test comes back positive, the Western Blot test will be performed to learn more about the infection. The Western Blot is a more detailed HIV-antibody test. Results are available in approximately 10 days.
  • OraSure: This HIV-antibody test involves collection of cells between the cheek and the gums. This is the least intrusive and does not require a blood sample. Results are available in approximately 10 days.
  • OraQuick Rapid HIV-1 Antibody Test for blood: This test, administered by finger prick, gives results of HIV-1 antibody detection in about twenty minutes. The test is about 97% accurate but a confirmatory standard test, such as the Western Blot, must be administered prior to delivering an absolute positive result.
  • OraQuick Advance Rapid HIV 1/2 Antibody Test for oral fluid: this test collects oral fluid through an oral swab and can give results in 20 minutes, and it is 99.3-99.8% accurate. As with the Rapid HIV-1 Antibody Test, a confirmatory blood test must be administered before giving a positive result. This test can detect both HIV-1 and HIV-2 (see Glossary). Though HIV-2 is rare in the Unites States, it is prevalent in parts of Africa.
  • RNA Testing: RNA testing looks for the RNA of the virus itself, not antibodies to the virus. RNA testing is currently only available in North Carolina and San Francisco. Though results take about a week, this test can detect the RNA of HIV within ten days of infection. The cons of this test are that people may not return for their results, and it is a costly test. Ideally, testing sites would conduct a rapid HIV-antibody test as well as an RNA test, but due to funding limitations, this is not currently possible.

Although LIFEbeat does not offer HIV testing, there are testing centers across the United States. For more information about HIV testing and the types of tests available, or to find a testing center near you, call the Centers for Disease Control Hotline, available 24 hours a day, at 1-800-CDC-INFO (232-4636), or visit www.hivtest.org.

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What other STDs should I be concerned about?

HIV is not the only sexually transmitted disease you need to protect yourself against. Most STIs show few symptoms, but all can be properly diagnosed through doctor’s exams and tests. STIs can increase the risk of HIV transmission through symptoms such as open sores and biological changes that happen in your body as a result of an STI infection. The most common STIs are:

  • HPV (Genital Warts)
  • Chlamydia
  • Genital Herpes
  • Gonorrhea
  • Hepatitis B
  • Syphilis
  • Trichomoniasis

To find out more about Sexually Transmitted Diseases, their symptoms, testing and treatment, visit www.cdc.gov.

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What’s going on in current research of HIV?

  • Vaccine trials– Preventative vaccines cannot cause HIV/AIDS because they are made of man-made materials and do not contain HIV. Since 1987, the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) has enrolled over 12, 000 volunteers in 79 HIV vaccine clinical trial that have tested more than 52 different vaccine candidates. For more information on vaccine trials and other clinical trials, visit http://www.aidsinfo.nih.gov/vaccines/.
  • CDC Trials of Daily Tenofovir for HIV Prevention– study is taking place in Botswana (using heterosexual males and females), Thailand (using Injection Drug Users), and the United States (using men who have sex with men). Tenofovir is an FDA approved anti-HIV drug. Currently it is only used among HIV+ persons, but this trial is designed to test the drugs preventative benefits.
  • Microbicides – would work like a spermicide, but would kill HIV instead of sperm. Microbicides may work by inactivating HIV, blocking attachment of HIV to susceptible cells and/or inhibiting viral spread from the first cells that acquire HIV. Microbicides are not yet available to the public because they are still in the research/testing phase.
  • Lubricants – specifically Astroglide may help prevent transmission because it may contain chemical compounds that kill HIV. This is not yet proven, but it is known that lubricants help prevent condom breakage and tears in the skin.
  • Non-oxynol-9 the CDC has determined that nonoxynol-9 (spermicide) does NOT prevent against HIV and in fact may make users more susceptible to HIV infection because spermicides are abrasive and may cause cuts and scrapes in the skin.
  • Circumcision Studies have shown that the foreskin has a higher density of target cells for HIV infection and may have greater susceptibility to cuts or abrasions during sex, opening up pathways for HIV infection. Relative risk was 44% lower in circumcised men than in un-circumcised men.

Just The Facts


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