What is HIV?
HIV (Human Immunodeficiency Virus) is the virus that causes AIDS (Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome). HIV attacks the white blood cells, which makes it hard for a person’s body to fight off infections.
Who has it?
There are almost 1.2 million people living with HIV/AIDS in the US, and that number grows by almost 45,000 each year. In California alone, there were nearly 170,000 reported cases of HIV/AIDS as of 2014. Anyone can get HIV: men, women, gay straight - it doesn't matter. If you are sexually active, you could be at risk.
How do you get HIV?
You get HIV through contact with an infected person’s bodily fluids – blood, pre-ejaculate (pre-cum), semen, vaginal fluids, and/or breast milk.
How do you know you have HIV?
You or your partner can have HIV and not know it. It can be months or years before you feel sick or have any serious signs, but you can still pass HIV to others. Though some people have no symptoms, signs of HIV may include: rapid weight loss, fever, diarrhea, night sweats, or feeling very tired. The only way to know for sure is to get tested.
How do you test for HIV?
The test for HIV usually uses a blood sample. Many health centers offer rapid testing using a sample from a cheek swab or a blood sample. HIV doesn’t show up in the test results right away – it can take up to 3 months after someone has been exposed to HIV for them to test positive.
Can you get rid of HIV?
HIV cannot be cured. There are some medicines that can slow down the progress of HIV for a long time, but the virus is still in the body. It can still be passed to others, even if the person who has it feels fine. If you have HIV, your doctor will make a treatment plan for you, with special medicines. Tell your partner(s) if you have HIV.
How can you protect yourself from getting HIV?
If you’re sexually active, the best way to avoid HIV is by being mutually monogamous with someone who’s been tested for HIV and is HIV negative. Using a condom every time you have vaginal or anal sex greatly reduces your risk of getting HIV. Make sure you’re putting it on right – and check that expiration date! When a condom is past its expiration date, it starts to break down and is less effective at preventing STDs and pregnancy. This can also happen when a condom is stored in a place that is too hot or too moist. If the condom you have is past its expiration date or seems dry, sticky or stiff because it wasn't stored properly, it's best to throw that condom away and get a new one. You can get free condoms here.
People who are at a very high risk of getting HIV may want to consider using Pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) to lower their chances of getting infected with HIV. PrEP is a medication that is approved for daily use to help prevent an HIV-negative person from getting HIV. Learn more about PrEP, including how to get it, here.
What’s the worst that could happen?
Over time, HIV and AIDS keep your body from being able to fight off diseases. People who have HIV are at a higher risk for certain serious or life-threatening infections. HIV can cause dangerous weight loss, mental problems, cancer, blindness, and even death. A mother who has HIV can pass it on to her baby before the baby is born, during childbirth, or through her breast milk.