Updated: Feb 28
What are HIV and AIDS?
HIV and AIDS are NOT the same thing.
HIV, or Human Immunodeficiency Virus, is a sexually transmitted infection that attacks and weakens your immune system. AIDS, or Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome, is a disease caused by HIV that makes it extremely hard for your body to fight off infections.
HIV has no cure.
Once someone gets HIV, they've got it for good. However, there are treatments that can reduce your viral load to a point where you cannot give it to someone else.
1.1 MILLION Americans have HIV.
There are about 38,000 new cases reported every year.
How is HIV spread?
HIV is carried in semen, blood, and vaginal fluids. You can get it by having vaginal or anal sex, or by sharing needles or syringes.
How does testing work?
Testing for HIV is generally simple and painless.
HIV testing usually involves either a cheek swab or drawing blood. When you contract HIV, your body produces antibodies to fight against the virus. An antibody test, which is the most common, looks for these antibodies in the blood. Generally, it can take 18 to 90 days for your body to make these antibodies. This means that for this period, your test results can come back negative, even if you have HIV. This is known as the window period. NATs (Nucleic Acid Tests) only have a 10 to 33 day window period and involve drawing blood from a vein to look for the virus itself. However, these tests are extremely expensive and only used in high-risk situations. Some tests, called rapid HIV tests, can give you results in 30 minutes or less. Others can take several days or weeks if samples need to be sent to a lab. It's important to get tested regularly. If you're sexually active or share needles for drug use, piercings, or tattoos, get tested. It can take up to 10 years to develop AIDS, so most people who have HIV don't know it until they get tested.
AIDS is a BIG problem, especially among LGBT folk. So, do you and your partner a HUGE favor and put your minds at ease.
What if I have it?
So, your results came back positive.
The first thing to remember is that this is nothing to be ashamed of. If you or your partner have HIV, it does not necessarily mean anyone cheated. Like we said, most people who contract HIV don't know they have it until years later.
How do I get rid of it?
Unfortunately, HIV can't be cured. However, your doctor can prescribe antiretroviral medications that can lower the amount of the virus in your body and slow the damage it does to your immune system. Antiretroviral therapy (ART) can lower your viral load to a point where it doesn't show up on standard tests. At this point, it is considered "undetectable", meaning that you can't spread HIV to sexual partners.
"Undetectable" doesn't mean cured.
Even if your viral load becomes undetectable, it can still return to detectable levels if you stop treatment, meaning you can spread it to your partner(s) again. It is important to maintain treatment if you contract HIV.
How do I prevent HIV?
The easiest way to prevent the spread of HIV is by wearing protection. Condoms and dental dams are 90-95% effective in protecting you from HIV.
Consider taking PrEP.
PrEP, or pre-exposure prophylaxis, is a daily pill that can prevent HIV. It's especially useful for MSM (men who have sex with men) since they make up the biggest group of HIV cases in the United States. If you think you've been exposed to HIV, you can take PEP, or post-exposure prophylaxis, within 72 hours to lower your chances of contracting it.
Use clean needles.
Don't share needles when shooting drugs or getting tattoos or piercings.