What You Should Know About HIV/AIDS
The Human Immunodeficiency Virus, also known as HIV, is a virus that destroys the healthy cells that fight disease and infection. Over time, the virus multiplies and destroys healthy cells. HIV is like other viruses, such as the flu or common cold. But, unlike those viruses which go away over time, HIV never leaves the immune system.
HIV lives and reproduces in blood and other body fluids. Blood, semen, breast milk and vaginal fluids are all primary sources for infection. HIV is spread in specific ways including sexual contact, pregnancy, breastfeeding, injection drug use, or occupational exposure.
HIV symptoms can begin as flu-like symptoms as early as two to four weeks after exposure. In fact, most HIV patients do not begin to feel ill until they start to progress towards AIDS (Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome). As an HIV infection progresses into AIDS, patients will begin to suffer from fatigue, diarrhea, nausea and vomiting.
AIDS is the final stage of an HIV infection. Once the HIV infection advances to AIDS, the immune system is severely damaged, leaving a patient at risk for additional infections.
Since the first diagnosed case almost 32 years ago, significant progress has been made to eliminate the HIV virus. Today, more than one million people are living with HIV in the U.S., but one in five people is unaware of the infection. Homosexual and bisexual men account for 61% of all new HIV cases and nearly half of the people living with HIV in the US. African Americans and Hispanic Latinos are also more likely to be infected by HIV/AIDs.
Facts About HIV
- HIV stands for Human Immunodeficiency Virus. It is the virus that causes AIDS.
- HIV is not spread by casual contact. You cannot get HIV by shaking hands, sharing a phone or sharing a bathroom with someone who has HIV or AIDS.
- HIV is preventable. You can avoid becoming infected with HIV if you abstain from sex and avoid sharing equipment (“works”) used for injecting drugs.
- HIV is caused by sharing needles and having anal, vaginal or oral sex with a person who is infected with HIV. Remember, a person living with HIV may look and feel healthy, but they can still pass the virus to others.
Why Get Tested for HIV/AIDS?
You should get tested if you have …
- had unprotected anal, vaginal or oral sex
- had sex while under the influence of drugs or alcohol
- received or given sex for money, drugs or other items
- shared needles, syringes or “works” for injecting drugs, tattooing or piercing
- had an STD (sexually transmitted disease) such as herpes, chlamydia, gonorrhea or syphillis
- are pregnant
How is HIV Testing Done?
HIV testing is confidential at River Region, which means your personal information and test results will not be shared with anyone unless they are directly involved in your care. River Region offers the Rapid Test, which is highly accurate and provides same day results.
The test includes a discussion regarding behaviors that may have put you at risk for HIV or AIDS. A small blood sample will be taken after you have provided informed consent to the test. The blood will be tested for the presence of HIV antibodies.
Same day results are available at River Region. However, if the test results indicate HIV is present, a second test will be given to confirm that you have HIV. The results of this test will take about two weeks.
What the HIV Test Results Mean
Negative: This means that you are not infected with HIV OR that you could be infected but your body has not begun producing HIV antibodies.
Reactive: This means that you are most likely infected with HIV. Reactive tests will be confirmed with another test and the results are available in about two weeks.
If Your Test Results Are Reactive
If your test results show that you are infected, you should be careful not to infect others, and also to protect yourself from other infections, especially STDs.
The results of the confirmation test will be sent to your county Health Department. A Disease Intervention Specialist will contact you to discuss your results and assist you with locating healthcare services, case management and other services. Your sexual partners will be contacted confidentially and notified of possible exposure to HIV, but you and your HIV status will remain anonymous.