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The Basics of H.I.V.



What is H.I.V.?

H.I.V. is the Human Immunodeficiency Virus. A virus is a microscopic organism or complex molecule that multiplies in living cells and may cause disease. H.I.V. attacks cells in the immune system and can prevent the body from fighting off other infections. If someone is H.I.V. positive, they are carrying the virus that causes A.I.D.S. Today, with proper treatment using a combination of medications, someone who is H.I.V. positive can live many years without ever developing A.I.D.S..


What is A.I.D.S.?

A.I.D.S. stands for Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome:

  • Acquired means you can get infected with it from someone else.

  • Immunodeficiency means a weakness in the body's system that fights diseases.

  • Syndrome means a group of health problems that make up a disease.


How are H.I.V. and A.I.D.S. different?

Although many people use the terms H.I.V. and A.I.D.S. interchangeably, they are quite distinct. Someone who is H.I.V. positive does not necessarily have A.I.D.S., but everyone who has A.I.D.S. is H.I.V. positive. What's the difference? H.I.V. is the virus that causes A.I.D.S.. It is possible to live with the virus for a very long time before any sumptoms appear.


Since A.I.D.S. is a medical diagnosis based on a collection of symptoms, rather than single illness, definitions differ from place to place. The United States, for example, uses the measure of a person's T-Cells-Blood cells whose job is to tell other blood cells how to fight an infection - to define the onset of A.I.D.S. In healthy individuals, these 'helper cells' (also called CD-4 cells or T-helper cells) are present in counts ranging from 800 to 1200. Without enough T-cells, the body loses its ability to fight off infections. In the United States, if a person is H.I.V. positive (meaning the virus is present in the blood) and his or her T-cell count falls below 200 (meaning there are too few T-cells to fight the virus), they are diagnosed with A.I.D.S.


How do you get it?

H.I.V. can be transmitted through these body fluids:

  • Blood

  • Semen/Pre-seminal fluid

  • Vaginal fluids

  • Breast milk


Though H.I.V. may be present in other bodily fluids, there are no documented cases of people getting the virus through them. So exposure to these bodily fluids is NOT RISKY:

  • Tears

  • Sweat

  • Saliva


H.I.V. needs a 'port of entry' into the body. It can enter through mucous membranes found in the nose, mouth, vagina, anus, and inside the opening of the penis. H.I.V. can also be transmitted into the bloodstream with a needle. The virus cannot enter the body through healthy skin without the aid of a needle, but it may be able to pass through broken or cut skin.


The most important information about H.I.V. is that it is 100% PREVENTABLE! There are also amazing medications, PEP (Post-Exposure Prophylaxis) and PrEP (Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis), that can prevent H.I.V. from taking hold in the human body. If you are in a high risk category - we recommend taking PrEP daily. If you are exposed accidentally, you can take PEP within 72 hours of exposure (think unprotected sex).

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