5 quick facts about HIV/AIDS

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HIV stands for human immunodeficiency virus. HIV is a retrovirus that infects cells of the human immune system and destroys or impairs their function.

AIDS, on the other hand, stands for acquired immunodeficiency syndrome and describes the collection of symptoms and infections associated with acquired deficiency of the immune system. Infection with HIV has been established as the underlying cause of AIDS.

The term AIDS applies to the most advanced stages of HIV infection. The majority of people infected with HIV, if not treated, develop signs of AIDS within eight to 10 years.  Here are some other quick facts about HIV/AIDS:

1. You Can Have HIV and Not Know It

It’s estimated that about one in eight people with HIV don’t know they have it. Within the first two to four weeks of an HIV infection, a person may experience flu-like symptoms such as fatigue, fever, headache, sore throat, and muscle and joint pain. Other HIV symptoms can include painful, swollen lymph nodes and a skin rash with small bumps. But in some cases people won’t experience any symptoms at all during this early (acute) stage of infection, the CDC reports, and they can spread the virus without realizing it.

2. You Can’t Get HIV From Insect Bites or Toilet Seats

Myths still abound about HIV transmission. You can’t get HIV from insect bites or stings, hugging, shaking hands, or sharing toilets or dishes, according to the CDC. You can’t get HIV from a closed-mouth kiss or contact with an infected person’s sweat or tears, nor can you get it by simply working or hanging out with someone who is HIV-positive or has AIDS.

3. There Are Several Ways to Prevent HIV Transmission

Because HIV is transmitted by the exchange of bodily fluids such as semen (including pre-seminal fluid), rectal fluids, vaginal fluids, and blood, the best way to stave off infection is to always practice safer sex and avoid sharing drug paraphernalia like needles. If you’re at very high risk of infection — for example, because your current sexual partner has HIV — you should talk to a healthcare provider about taking a medication called pre-exposure prophylaxis, or PrEP.

4. Medications Can Protect You After a Possible HIV Exposure

PEP (post-exposure prophylaxis) is medicine to prevent HIV after a possible exposure. The CDC advises you to alert a healthcare provider or an emergency room doctor and begin PEP within 72 hours. The sooner you start, the better. PEP is not meant to replace other HIV prevention methods. If you may be exposed to HIV frequently, talk to your healthcare provider about PrEP.

5. Getting tested is the only way to know for sure

The CDC recommends that everyone between ages 13 and 64 get an HIV test at least once, and seek out testing as often as every six months if they have multiple sexual partners, have unprotected sex, or use needles to inject drugs. You can see your doctor for a conventional blood test or visit almost any health department or sexual health clinic for a blood or saliva test (usually free). These centers also offer confidential on-site counseling.


Information provided by everydayhealth.com and UNIAIDS.