HIV 101

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What are HIV and AIDS?

HIV stands for Human Immunodeficiency Virus.

AIDS means Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome. AIDS is the most advanced stage of HIV infection.

About 1.1 million adults and adolescents were living with HIV in the US by the end of 2015.

Source: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

How can you get HIV?

HIV is transmitted through contact with the blood, semen, genital fluids, or breast milk of a person infected with HIV.

Having unprotected sex and sharing needles or syringes with a person infected with HIV are the most common ways HIV is spread.

In 2015, about 1 in 7 people with HIV didn’t know they had it.

Source: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention


What is an HIV test?

The most common HIV test is called an antibody screening. It tests for the presence of antibodies that the body makes to fight HIV.

Follow-up diagnostic testing is performed on people who test positive for HIV. This includes a test that looks for the virus directly, and one that distinguishes between different types of HIV.

What happens in 
your body when you 
have HIV?

HIV destroys CD4  T-cells.

These are a type of white blood cell that are a part of your immune system and help fight infections.

HIV makes more HIV.

When the HIV virus enters a CD4  T-cell, HIV uses the CD4  cells to make copies of itself, and then destroys the CD4 cells. Left untreated, CD4  T-cells are depleted and the body is less able to fight infection.

The viral load increases.

If left untreated, the amount of HIV in an infected person’s blood, also called the “viral load,” will go up. As the viral load increases, a patient becomes more infectious to others and his/her immune system further weakens.

More than 39,000 people were diagnosed with HIV in 2016.

Source: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention


What are the signs or symptoms of HIV infection?

Some people get flu-like symptoms within 2 to 4 weeks of HIV infection, but many don’t report feeling ill.

The symptoms may vary depending on the stage of HIV infection. An HIV test is the only way to know for sure if a person has HIV.

In the US, African-Americans accounted for the highest percentage of new HIV infections among women in 2014.

Source: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

What is HIV treatment?

HIV medicines help stop HIV from making copies of itself by interfering with different steps of the HIV life cycle.

Antiretroviral therapy, or ART, is the use of multiple HIV-1 medicines, which can sometimes be found as a combination in one pill.

ART can reduce the viral load and increase the number of CD4  T-cells in the blood.

What is the goal of HIV treatment?

To reduce the viral load to undetectable. Keep in mind that an undetectable viral load does not mean the person is cured.

To increase the number of CD4  T-cells in the blood, to help allow the body to fight off infections.