HIV stands for human immunodeficiency virus. If left untreated, HIV can lead to the disease AIDS (acquired immunodeficiency syndrome).
Unlike some other viruses, the human body can’t get rid of HIV completely. So once you have HIV, you have it for life.
HIV attacks the body’s immune system, specifically the CD4 cells (T cells), which help the immune system fight off infections. If left untreated, HIV reduces the number of CD4 cells (T cells) in the body, making the person more likely to get infections or infection-related cancers. Over time, HIV can destroy so many of these cells that the body can’t fight off infections and disease. These opportunistic infections or cancers take advantage of a very weak immune system and signal that the person has AIDS, the last state of HIV infection.
No effective cure for HIV currently exists, but with proper treatment and medical care, HIV can be controlled. The medicine used to treat HIV is called antiretroviral therapy or ART. If taken the right way, every day, this medicine can dramatically prolong the lives of many people with HIV, keep them healthy, and greatly lower their chance of transmitting the virus to others. Today, a person who is diagnosed with HIV, treated before the disease is far advanced, and stays on treatment can live a nearly as long as someone who does not have HIV.The only way to know for sure if you have HIV is to get tested. Testing is relatively simple. You can ask your health care provider for an HIV test. Many medical clinics, substance abuse programs, community health centers, and hospitals offer them too. You can also buy a home testing kit at a pharmacy or online.
AIDS stands for acquired immunodeficiency syndrome. AIDS is the final stage of HIV infection, and not everyone who has HIV advances to this stage.
AIDS is the stage of infection that occurs when your immune system is badly damaged and you become vulnerable to opportunistic infections. When the number of your CD4 cells falls below 200 cells per cubic millimeter of blood (200 cells/mm3), you are considered to have progressed to AIDS. (The CD4 count of an uninfected adult/adolescent who is generally in good health ranges from 500 cells/mm3 to 1,600 cells/mm3.) You can also be diagnosed with AIDS if you develop one or more opportunistic infections, regardless of your CD4 count.
Without treatment, people who are diagnosed with AIDS typically survive about 3 years. Once someone has a dangerous opportunistic illness, life expectancy without treatment falls to about 1 year. People with AIDS need medical treatment to prevent death.
You can get or transmit HIV only through specific activities. Most commonly, people get or transmit HIV through sexual behaviors and needle or syringe use.
HIV is not spread easily. Only certain body fluids from a person who has HIV can transmit HIV:
These body fluids must come into contact with a mucous membrane or damaged tissue or be directly injected into your bloodstream (by a needle or syringe) for transmission to occur. Mucous membranes are found inside the rectum, vagina, penis, and mouth.
If you think you may have been exposed to HIV, get tested. You can get tested at your healthcare provider’s office, a clinic, and other locations. You can also get a HIV home test kit from your local pharmacy.
In the United States, HIV is spread mainly by:
Less commonly, HIV may be spread:
In extremely rare cases, HIV has been transmitted by:
HIV does not survive long outside the human body (such as on surfaces) and it cannot reproduce outside a human host. It is not spread by:
Not having sex is the best way to prevent getting or transmitting HIV. If you’re sexually active, here are several highly effective actions you can take to reduce your risk of getting HIV, and the more of these actions you take, the safer you can be:
PrEP: Short for “pre-exposure prophylaxis,” PrEP is an HIV prevention strategy in which HIV-negative people take an oral pill once a day before coming into contact with HIV to reduce their risk of HIV infection. PrEP must be taken for at least 7 days to reach optimal levels of protection against HIV.
PEP: Short for “post-exposure prophylaxis,” PEP is an HIV prevention strategy in which HIV-negative people take anti-HIV medications after coming into contact with HIV to reduce their risk of HIV infection. PEP must be started within 72 hours after HIV exposure.
The Truvada® for PrEP medication assistance program assists eligible HIV-negative adults in the United States who require assistance paying for Truvada (emtricitabine and tenofovir disoproxil fumarate) for PrEP (pre-exposure prophylaxis).
To find out if you are eligible for this medication assistance program, call 1-855-330-5479, Monday through Friday between 9:00 a.m. and 8:00 p.m. (Eastern).
If you're interested in joining a group specifically for people living with HIV, please contact our director, Andy Cofino at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Check out the CDC's HIV Risk Reduction Tool to help measure your risk for HIV
Providing care and community for people living with HIV
HIV legislation in California has recently been updated to remove unfair stigmatization of HIV/AIDS present in outdated laws. Read more about the new changes.
HIV legislation in California has been recently updated to remove unfair stigmatization of HIV/AIDS present in outdated laws.
Read more about the new changes.