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HIV > What Is HIV?

Let's Talk About HIV and AIDS

What is HIV?

The Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) is the virus that causes HIV infection. HIV specifically attacks cells of the immune system that help to fight infections.

What is AIDS?

Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome (AIDS) is the most advanced stage of HIV infection. A person does not have AIDS as soon as he or she becomes infected with HIV. In fact, it is possible to have HIV for many years and not have any signs of the disease. HIV infection may progress to AIDS.

How do you get HIV?

HIV is commonly contracted in the following ways:

  • Through sexual contact (anal and vaginal) with someone who is infected with the virus
  • By sharing a needle with a person who has HIV

In very rare cases, HIV can be spread in the following ways:

  • Through oral sex
  • Through a blood transfusion with infected blood. This was more common in the early years of HIV, but rigorous testing of the US blood supply has lowered this risk considerably

You cannot get HIV in the following ways:

  • From simple or casual contact (shaking hands or drinking out of the same glass) with a person who has the virus

What does it mean if you test positive for HIV?

If you get a positive result on an HIV test, it usually means that you are infected with HIV. If you test positive for HIV you should see a doctor as soon as possible. If HIV goes untreated, it can damage the immune system and lead to AIDS.

Knowledge is power

If you have been diagnosed with HIV, it’s important to partner with a doctor. Your doctor will work with you to find the HIV regimen that's best for you and fits your lifestyle.

Learn as much as you can about HIV/AIDS. Remember, knowledge is power. Join an HIV/AIDS support group so that you can express your feelings and share with others.