Demystifying HIV: Answers to FAQs on Prevention, Testing & Support

There’s a lot of information when it comes to HIV.

So naturally, you have questions. But we’ve got answers to help make this easier to understand.

Why get tested?

Regular testing puts you in control of your health. When you know your status, you know how to take care of yourself. It helps you stay healthy, regardless of your results. Plus, it’s a totally easy process that is available through a health care provider or even home testing.

What is EHE?

The Ending the HIV Epidemic (EHE) in the United States initiative was announced in 2019 with the aim to end the HIV epidemic by 2030. The initiative’s goal is to reduce the number of people who acquire HIV each year by 90% by the year 2030.

Why get treatment?

Leaving HIV untreated can lead to a weakened immune system, which puts you at risk for serious infections and illnesses. This could mean long hospital stays, lots of medication, and the possibility of HIV becoming AIDS.

What is HIV exactly?

HIV is a virus that attacks the human immune system. There is no cure for HIV. Unlike some other viruses, such as the common cold, HIV cannot be cleared from the body. However, treatments are available. HIV attacks and destroys important immune system cells known as +CD4 T cells that help your body fight infections. The more +CD4 T cells that are destroyed, the weaker your immune system can become. With fewer +CD4 T cells due to HIV, it can be harder for your body to fight illnesses and infections.

How do you get HIV?

Sex – higher risk if you’re the recipient of anal sex or have open wounds or have another STI.

Sharing Needles – If you use a needle used by someone else, you’re at risk for contracting anything the previous person had. This can happen through injection drug use or using the same needles for tattoos and piercing (professional parlors ALWAYS discard used needles! Don’t trust uncredible locations or artists.).

What is PrEP?

PrEP (pre-exposure prophylaxis) is a medicine that people who are at risk for HIV take to prevent getting HIV from sex or injection drug use. PrEP reduces the risk of getting HIV from sex by about 99% when taken as prescribed. You can learn about the medication here.

Can I stop using condoms if I take PrEP?

PrEP provides protection from HIV, not against other STIs, so condoms are still needed to prevent other STIs like gonorrhea, herpes, syphilis, and chlamydia.

What are the side effects of PrEP?

PrEP is safe but some people experience side effects like diarrhea, nausea, headache, fatigue, and stomach pain. These side effects usually go away over time.

How long do I have to take PrEP before it is highly effective?

PrEP reaches maximum protection from HIV for receptive anal sex (bottoming) at about 7 days of daily use. For receptive vaginal sex and injection drug use, PrEP reaches maximum protection at about 21 days of daily use.

Can adolescents take PrEP? Why do you need to take PrEP as prescribed?

Yes. PrEP is approved for use by adolescents without HIV who weigh at least 75 pounds (35 kg) and who are at risk of getting HIV from sex or injection drug use. You must take PrEP as prescribed for it to work. If you do not take PrEP as prescribed, there may not be enough medicine in your bloodstream to block the virus. The right amount of medicine in your bloodstream can stop HIV from taking hold and spreading in your body.

Aren’t HIV and AIDS the same thing?

No. Being HIV positive is not the same as having AIDS (acquired immunodeficiency syndrome). However, in those with a weakened immune system, HIV can advance into AIDS. You can only develop AIDS if you don’t treat HIV. In the simplest terms, HIV is a virus, AIDS is a disease.

Who gets HIV?

EVERYONE! No, really. Everyone is at risk for HIV. HIV is transmitted through unsafe sexual activities or through sharing needles. The virus does not discriminate based on age, gender, orientation, race, etc. That’s why we want everyone to get tested and know their status.

How can you get HIV?

HIV is transmitted through contact with certain body fluids, such as semen, vaginal or anal fluids, breast milk, and blood. The easiest way to contract HIV is through unprotected sex or sharing needles. HIV is NOT transmitted through contact with sweat, tears, saliva, bath or pool water, or by sharing dishes or drinking glasses, hugging, or shaking hands.

Can I live with HIV?

Yes! You can live a healthy life with HIV. While there is no cure for HIV, you can pursue treatment that keeps you and your partner healthy. Avoid STIs, unprotected sex, and injection drug use.

Who is most at risk?

When you have unprotected sex or share needles, you’re at risk. But those at higher risks are:

  • Men who have sex with men
  • People with more than one sexual partner
  • Transgender women who have sex with men
  • People who have recently had a sexually transmitted infection
  • People who use injection drugs

The CDC recommends that individuals who fall into these categories get tested every 3 to 6 months.

Where can I go for help?

We have an abundance of resources to help you whether you’re HIV positive, at risk, or looking to be an ally. Check out our Resources section for everything you need to get started!

How can I be a good ally?

Supporting your friends and family who are at risk or living with HIV is the best way to be an ally. Being there when they need to talk or just telling them you’ll be there for them is a great start. You can visit our What Can I Do? page for more resources.

How can I be an advocate?

Being involved in spreading information, education, and supporting the HIV community is a great way to advocate. You can also volunteer with HIV-related organizations. Visit our What Can I Do? page for more resources.

What’s the difference between an ally and an advocate?

They’re both individuals who support and stand by their friends and family members who are at risk or living with HIV. An advocate, however, also works for the entire community and volunteers or goes out to spread HIV awareness.

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