There is a lot of information about HIV/AIDS available, but figuring out what is correct and what isn’t is challenging sometimes. Below you will find some Frequently Asked Questions about HIV/AIDS and medically accurate answers. The information provided is from the American Foundation for AIDS Research.
More information on HIV/AIDS, STDs, PReP and other education and prevention services can be found at:
New Mexico HIV Online Resource Guide: NMHIVguide.org
Center for Disease Control: CDC.gov
LOCAL HIV CLINICS
What is HIV?
What is AIDS?
When a person is infected with HIV, the virus enters the body and lives and multiplies primarily in the white blood cells. These are immune cells that normally protect us from disease. The hallmark of HIV infection is the progressive loss of a specific type of immune cell called T-helper, or CD4, cells. As the virus grows, it damages or kills these and other cells, weakening the immune system and leaving the person vulnerable to various opportunistic infections and other illnesses ranging from pneumonia to cancer. A person can receive a clinical diagnosis of AIDS, as defined by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), if he or she has tested positive for HIV and meets one or both of theses conditions:
• The presence of one or more AIDS-related infections or illnesses;
• A CD4 count that has reached or fallen below 200 cells per cubic millimeter of blood. Also called the T-cell count, the CD4 count ranges from 450 to 1200 in healthy individuals.
How quickly do people infected with HIV develop AIDS?
How many people are affected by HIV/AIDS?
How is HIV transmitted?
(1) Through the linings of the vagina, rectum, mouth, and the opening at the tip of the penis;
(2) Through intravenous injection with a syringe; or
(3) Through a break in the skin, such as a cut or sore.
Usually, HIV is transmitted through:
• Unprotected sexual intercourse (either vaginal or anal) with someone who has HIV. Women are at greater risk of HIV infection through vaginal sex than men, although the virus can also be transmitted from women to men. Anal sex (whether male-male or male-female) poses a high risk mainly to the receptive partner, because the lining of the anus and rectum is extremely thin and is filled with small blood vessels that can be easily injured during intercourse.
• Unprotected oral sex with someone who has HIV. There are far fewer cases of HIV transmission attributed to oral sex than to either vaginal or anal intercourse, but oral-genital contact poses a clear risk of HIV infection, particularly when ejaculation occurs in the mouth. This risk goes up when either partner has cuts or sores, such as those caused by sexually transmitted infections (STIs), recent tooth-brushing, or canker sores, which can allow the virus to enter the bloodstream.
• Sharing needles or syringes with someone who is HIV infected. Laboratory studies show that infectious HIV can survive in used syringes for a month or more. That’s why people who inject drugs should never reuse or share syringes, water, or drug preparation equipment. This includes needles or syringes used to inject illegal drugs such as heroin, as well as steroids. Other types of needles, such as those used for body piercing and tattoos, can also carry HIV.
• Infection during pregnancy, childbirth, or breast-feeding (mother-to-infant transmission). Any woman who is pregnant or considering becoming pregnant and thinks she may have been exposed to HIV-even if the exposure occurred years ago-should seek testing and counseling. In the U.S., mother-to-infant transmission has dropped to just a few cases each year because pregnant women are routinely tested for HIV. Those who test positive can get drugs to prevent HIV from being passed on to a fetus or infant, and they are counseled not to breast-feed.
How is HIV not transmitted?
How can I reduce my risk of becoming infected with HIV through sexual contact?
• Use only latex condoms (or dental dams). Lambskin products provide little protection against HIV.
•Use only water or silicone based lubricants. Latex condoms are virtually useless when combined with oil- or petroleum-based lubricants such as Vaseline® or hand lotion. (People with latex allergies can use polyethylene condoms with oil-based lubricants).
• Use protection each and every time you have sex.
• If necessary, consult a nurse, doctor, or health educator for guidance on the proper use of latex barriers.
The male condom is the only widely available barrier against sexual transmission of HIV. Female condoms are also effective at preventing HIV and can be purchased at some stores. You can also talk with your doctor about the need and accessibility for PrEP use.
Are there other ways to avoid getting HIV through sexual contact?
PEP (Post Exposure Prophylaxis) is the use of current HIV medication after a potential exposure. This can be prescribed by a primary care doctor or an Emergency department doctor but must be initialed within 72 hours of the exposure. Follow up with your doctor for more information.
Is there a link between HIV and other sexually transmitted infections?
How can I avoid acquiring HIV from a contaminated syringe?
Are some people at greater risk of HIV infection than others?
Are women especially vulnerable to HIV?
Are young people at significant risk of HIV infection?
Are there treatments for HIV/AIDS?
In addition, several types of drugs seek to prevent HIV itself from reproducing and destroying the body’s immune system:
• Reverse transcriptase inhibitors attack an HIV enzyme called reverse transcriptase.
• Protease inhibitors attack the HIV enzyme protease.
• Fusion inhibitors stop virus from entering cells.
Many HIV patients take these drugs in combination-a regimen known as active antiretroviral therapy (AART). When taken as directed, anti-HIV treatment can reduce the amount of HIV in the bloodstream to very low levels and sometimes enables the body’s immune cells to rebound to normal levels.
Several drugs can be taken to help prevent a number of opportunistic infections including Pneumocystis carinii pneumonia, toxoplasmosis, cryptococcus and cytomegalovirus infection. Once opportunistic infections occur, the same drugs can be used at higher doses to treat these infections, and chemotherapy drugs are available to treat the cancers that commonly occur in AIDS.
Researchers are continuing to develop new drugs that act at critical steps in the virus’s life cycle. Efforts are under way to identify new targets for anti-HIV medications and to discover ways of restoring the ability of damaged immune systems to defend against HIV and the many illnesses that affect people with HIV. Ultimately, advances in rebuilding the immune systems of HIV patients will benefit people with a number of serious illnesses, including cancer, Alzheimer’s disease, multiple sclerosis, and immune deficiencies associated with aging and premature birth.
Is there a cure for HIV/AIDS?
Is there a vaccine to prevent HIV infection?
Can you tell whether someone has HIV or AIDS?
How do I know if I’m infected?
Should I get tested?
• Even in the early stages of infection, you can take concrete steps to protect your long-term health. Regular check-ups with a doctor who has experience with HIV/AIDS will enable you (and your family members or loved ones) to make the best decisions about whether and when to begin anti-HIV treatment, without waiting until you get sick.
• Taking an active approach to managing HIV may give you many more years of healthy life than you would otherwise have.
• If you are HIV positive, you will be able to take the precautions necessary to protect others from becoming infected.
• If you are HIV positive and pregnant, you can take medications and other precautions to significantly reduce the risk of infecting your infant, including not breast-feeding.