Last updated: October 12, 2022
What is HIV/AIDS?
HIV stands for human immunodeficiency virus and is the virus that causes AIDS. The virus damages and kills the cells of the immune system (the body’s infection fighting system). As a result, it affects the body’s ability to fight off infections. The term AIDS is used to describe the later stages of HIV infection, AIDS stands for acquired immunodeficiency syndrome. There is no cure for HIV/AIDS, but it is treatable and many people now live a long time managing the infection as a chronic medical condition. If treated properly, HIV infection can be prevented from developing into AIDS.
How do I get it?
HIV is passed on through bodily fluids (semen or vaginal fluids) and blood from a person infected with HIV. Most people get the virus by having unprotected vaginal, oral or anal sex (having sex without using a condom) with someone who has HIV. A person can also get HIV by sharing drug needles with someone who is infected with HIV. HIV can also be passed on from a mother to her baby during pregnancy, birth or breastfeeding. If you are pregnant, it is very important to get tested for HIV since treatment can protect your baby.
What are the symptoms of HIV?
- Many people do not have any symptoms and often look and feel healthy for years after infection (25% of people infected with HIV do not know they have the disease).
- Some people may have a temporary flu-like illness within three to six weeks after infection. This is called acute HIV syndrome, which may include fever, headache, tiredness, nausea, diarrhea and enlarged lymph glands.
- People infected with HIV can develop many symptoms and diseases over time, which help to diagnose AIDS (See: Opportunistic Infections).
How can I prevent getting HIV/AIDS?
The best way to prevent getting HIV is to avoid sexual contact with an infected person. One way to do this is by practicing abstinence. Abstinence means not having sex with anyone. Another way to prevent getting HIV is by having only one partner who only has sex with you. Be sure to have yourself and your partner tested before having sex for the first time.
People who decide to have sex, especially if they have multiple partners, must be responsible for protecting themselves and others from infections. Do this by knowing the right way to use condoms and using them every time you have sex. Condoms can help prevent the spread of HIV. Though not 100% effective, condoms are the best protection. Even if using another birth control method, use a condom if there is a risk of getting a sexually transmitted infection during sex.
Avoid abusing alcohol and drugs because they can prevent you from making safe choice’s to protect your health.
Is there a test and treatment for HIV/AIDS?
Yes. If your sex partner or you have had unprotected sex, had an STI or shared needles, you could be carrying the virus and not know it. Get tested!
There are three types of HIV tests available used to detect HIV infection. A person may have their blood drawn, or have their oral fluid collected by gently swabbing their gums or by testing a small drop of blood collected from the finger. The tests look for antibodies produced by the body to fight HIV. HIV testing is offered in many health care settings, such as your doctor’s office, health departments, health clinics and hospitals.
It can take as long as 6 months for HIV antibodies to show up in a blood sample. If you think you have been exposed to HIV but you test negative, it is important to get tested again in 6 months to be sure you are not infected. Meanwhile, take steps to prevent the spread of the virus. If you are infected, you can still pass HIV to another person during this time.
If you test positive for HIV, early medical treatment and a healthy lifestyle can help you stay well, delay the onset of AIDS and prevent or treat some life-threatening conditions. Treatment for HIV is a combination of medicines called highly active antiretroviral therapy (HAART). Your doctor will determine whether or not treatment is necessary.
If you are diagnosed with HIV, make sure your partners get tested. Do not have sex until you have discussed options for safe sex with your doctor. If you are pregnant, get tested for STIs and HIV early and again late in your pregnancy.
What happens if I have HIV/AIDS and I am not treated?
AIDS occurs if you have had specific illnesses (opportunistic infections) or a set of symptoms that tell your doctor that you have moved from HIV to AIDS. Opportunistic infections are infections caused by germs that do not normally infect a healthy body, and they are common in people with AIDS. These infections can be caused by viruses, bacteria, parasites and fungi, and many of them are unusual germs. People with AIDS also have an increased risk of developing cancer such as Kaposis sarcoma, cervical cancer and cancers of the immune system known as lymphomas. People who have AIDS most often die from opportunistic infections or cancers because their immune system isn’t able to protect them anymore. If AIDS is not treated, the body will not be able to fight off infections well.
For more information, referrals or CONFIDENTIAL treatment, contact:
HIV/STI Prevention and Care Program
Anne Arundel County Department of Health
1 Harry S. Truman Parkway, Suite 200
Annapolis, Maryland 21401
Monday Friday, 8:00 a.m. 4:30 p.m.