What are HIV and AIDS?

Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) is the virus that causes AIDS (Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome). Acquired means you can catch it; Immune Deficiency means a weakness in the body’s system that fights diseases; Syndrome means a group of health problems that make up a disease. As HIV slowly attacks the body’s immune system the HIV disease progresses. AIDS is the most serious form of HIV disease. AIDS is a technical word – defined by the federal government – and is diagnosed by having a T-cell (an important element of the immune system) count of less than 200 or the presence of certain opportunistic infections. HIV is the virus, AIDS is the disease and HIV disease is the most appropriate way to describe the continuum of HIV and AIDS.

How Does a Person Get HIV?

The virus is passed from an infected person to someone else through blood-to-blood and sexual contact. A person can get Hiv from anyone who’s infected, even if they don’t look sick, even if they haven’t tested positive. Most people get HIV by:

  • Having sex with an infected person.
  • Sharing a needle (shooting drugs) with someone who’s infected.
  • Birth to an infected woman.

Getting a transfusion of blood from an infected blood donor used to be a way people got HIV, but now the blood supply is screened very carefully and the risk is extremely low.

There are no documented cases of HIV being transmitted by tears or saliva, but it is possible to catch HIV by oral sex, especially if you have sores on your mouth or gums.

How Can I Prevent HIV?

Ways to reduce your risk of getting HIV:

  • Abstain from sexual activity.
  • Have sex with only one uninfected partner who has sex only with you. People who have many sexual partners are at higher risk of getting HIV.
  • Latex condoms (when used correctly from start to finish every time you have sex) provide some protection but are not a guarantee.

What are the Treatments?

There is NO CURE for HIV. There are drugs that can slow down the HIV virus, and slow down the damage to your immune system. But there is no way to get all the HIV out of your body.