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HIV & AIDS

Updated: Nov 17



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 the point where you cannot give it to someone else.

1.2 MILLION Americans have HIV.

There are about 34,800 new cases reported every year. While HIV disproportionately affects gay and bisexual men, anyone can get HIV, regardless of age, sex, race, or sexual orientation.


How is HIV spread?


HIV is carried in semen, blood, vaginal fluids, and breast milk. You can get it by having vaginal or anal sex or by sharing needles or syringes. HIV isn't spread through saliva, and you can't get it just by kissing or touching someone who is HIV-positive.


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.


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. Almost all rapid HIV tests are antibody tests. These generally involve either a cheek swab or drawing blood through a finger prick. You can also get an at-home rapid HIV test called OraQuick, which can be purchased at your local pharmacy or online. 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.

Seriously.

AIDS is a BIG problem, especially among LGBTQ+ folk. So, do you and your partner a HUGE favor and put your minds at ease.

Click here to find a local testing center.


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?

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.


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?


Wear protection.

The easiest way to prevent the spread of HIV is by wearing protection. Barrier methods like 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.



 

References


HIV.gov (2021, June 2). U.S. Statistics. HIV.gov. https://www.hiv.gov/hiv-basics/overview/data-and-trends/statistics.


HIV.gov. (2021, April 8). What are HIV and AIDS? HIV.gov. https://www.hiv.gov/hiv-basics/overview/about-hiv-and-aids/what-are-hiv-and-aids.


HIV.gov. (2021, April 8). HIV Testing Overview. HIV.gov. https://www.hiv.gov/hiv-basics/hiv-testing/learn-about-hiv-testing/hiv-testing-overview.


Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2021, May 13). Types of HIV Tests. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. https://www.cdc.gov/hiv/basics/hiv-testing/test-types.html.


Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2021, May 20). Treatment. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. https://www.cdc.gov/hiv/basics/livingwithhiv/treatment.html.


Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2021, May 20). Opportunistic Infections. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. https://www.cdc.gov/hiv/basics/livingwithhiv/opportunisticinfections.html.


Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2021, July 16). HIV Self-Testing. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. https://www.cdc.gov/hiv/basics/hiv-testing/hiv-self-tests.html.


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