Find answers to commonly asked questions about HIV/AIDS.

Information obtained from http://www.cdc.gov/hiv/.

What do HIV and AIDS stand for?

HIV stands for Human Immunodeficiency Virus:

Human: HIV is transferred from one human to another.

Immunodeficiency: HIV attacks the immune system, the part of the body that protects you from diseases. With HIV, your body has a hard time protecting you since your immune system is weak.

Virus: HIV is not caused by a bacteria, it is a viral infection.

AIDS stands for Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome:

Acquired: It means a person got it from somewhere, it didn’t just show up in the body one day like some cancers can.

Immune: AIDS attacks the immune system, the part of the body that protects you from diseases.

Deficiency: Your immune system is weak or lacking what it needs to fight off diseases.

Syndrome: A set of symptoms that show up in the body together because of a disease.

What is the difference between HIV and AIDS?

HIV is the virus that causes AIDS. HIV turns to AIDS when an infected person’s T-cell count (white blood cells are a part of the immune system) drops below 200 (people in good health have well over 1000 T-cells). This can take a very long or short period of time to happen depending on each individuals body. For example, former basketball player Magic Johnson has had HIV for over 15 years and it has yet to develop into AIDS. Researchers are not sure if HIV always develops into AIDS.


Why should I protect myself from HIV?

There is no cure for HIV/AIDS. There has been a lot of new treatment in the past 30+ years that help people live longer but there is still no cure. HIV/AIDS can make people very sick and can be deadly.


What does HIV/AIDS do to the body?

HIV/AIDS attacks the immune system. You need your immune system to be in good shape so it can fight off diseases. With HIV/AIDS in the body, the immune system gets weak.


Can you tell me about symptoms for HIV/AIDS?

Symptoms for HIV/AIDS are similar to the flu BUT, it can take up to ten years for a person to get symptoms for HIV/AIDS. If someone has put themselves at risk by having unprotected sex or sharing needles, they need an HIV test – don’t wait for symptoms!


How does someone get HIV?

There are three main ways to get HIV:

  1. Having unprotected oral, anal, or vaginal sex
  2. Sharing needles
  3. From a mother to a baby during pregnancy/labor or breastfeeding

What body fluids do/do not contain HIV?

All the fluids in the body can contain HIV but not all of the fluids contain enough of the virus to transfer it from one person to another.


Large amounts of the virus are in four body fluids:

  • Blood
  • Semen (male sex fluid)
  • Vaginal Fluid (female sex fluid)
  • Breast Milk

Only small amounts of the virus are in: saliva/spit, urine, tears, and sweat. That means, you cannot get HIV from: sharing drinking glasses or eating utensils, door knobs, hugging, holding hands, using the same bathroom, or any other kinds of contact that do not involve a direct transmission of blood, semen, vaginal fluid, or breast milk. You also can’t get HIV from mosquitoes.


How can I protect myself from HIV?

You do not HAVE to get HIV! Here is how to keep yourself HIV-free:

Do not participate in sex of any kind or share needles – this is the only 100% way you will not get HIV. Another word for this is abstinence.

If you do have sex, use a barrier EVERY time to significantly reduce your risk for HIV.

For vaginal sex – use a male or female condom

For anal sex – use a male condom

For oral sex – use a male condom on a penis or a dental dam (square latex sheet) on the vagina or anus. Non-microwavable plastic wrap or a male condom cut in half to form a flat sheet can be used instead of a dental dam.

Remember, condoms must be used PROPERLY to be effective.


How do I use a condom PROPERLY?

Below are tips on proper condom use; you still need to read the instructions on the condom package for more information.

Check the expiration date on the condom before you open it. DO NOT use it if it has expired.

Carefully tear the condom package open – never use scissors or teeth, you may rip the condom.

Do not keep a condom in your wallet or purse or out in the sun because it can break it down.

The condom should go on the penis from the very beginning of the sexual encounter, not just right before the male penetrates the vagina or anus. Males often have fluid, called pre-cum or pre-ejaculatory fluid, coming from their penis and they do not even realize it during that moment. This fluid can contain HIV and other STDs as well as sperm that can cause pregnancy.

If you put a condom on the penis and realize that you have it upside down (it won’t roll down), DO NOT flip it over, it may already have pre-cum on it that you cannot see. Throw the condom away and get a new one. Your best bet is to make sure it is going on correctly in the first place by rolling it out a little before placing it on the penis.

Make sure to pinch the tip of the condom as you roll it down the penis to keep out air (this can cause the condom to break) and to leave a little extra room in the tip to catch the semen.

When taking the condom off, do so while the penis is erect (hard), and make sure it is away from your partner. Throw the condom away by tying it off and disposing of it in a trash can (do not flush it down the toilet). At this point, wash your hands before touching your partner.

What does HIV positive and negative mean?

HIV positive or HIV+ means the virus is in the body. HIV negative or HIV- means the virus is not in the body.