What is it?
Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) is the virus which causes Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome (AIDS). HIV searches out and destroys white blood cells, weakening a person’s body against infections.
Who has it?
It’s likely that you’ve heard HIV described as a “gay disease”, but that isn’t accurate. Over 1.1 million Americans are living with HIV/AIDS, with about half of new infections in straight people.
How do you get it?
HIV is transmitted through contact with infected body fluids like blood, semen, pre-cum, vaginal fluids, and breast milk.
How do you know you have it?
Some people who have HIV may go a long period of time — months or even years — without knowing they have it, because they haven’t had any serious symptoms. Even when an infected person doesn’t have any symptoms, they can still pass the virus to others. Those who do show symptoms may experience fever, diarrhea, rapid weight loss, extreme fatigue, or night sweats. You should definitely get tested if you think you may be at risk of having HIV.
How do you test for it?
The most common to test for HIV is by a blood sample, but some clinics may offer rapid testing by using a sample from a cheek swab. It may take several months after exposure for HIV to show up in test results.
Can you get rid of it?
There is no cure for HIV, but there are medications that may slow the progression of the virus. Even when taking medicine, the virus will always be in the body, and can still be passed to others. It’s important to tell your partners if you have HIV, and to talk to your doctor about it, who will make a medication treatment plan for you.
How do you keep from getting HIV?
Make sure you use a condom every time you have anal or vaginal sex, which will hugely reduce your risk of getting HIV. If you’re sexually active try to get tested regularly, or be mutually monogamous with a partner who has also been tested.
What’s the worst that could happen?
HIV and AIDS attack your immune system, putting your body at greater risk for serious infections. HIV can be passed from a mother to her child during childbirth, through breast milk, and even before the child is born. The virus can lead to cancer, blindness, severe weight loss, mental problems, and death.
Want to get tested for HIV? Contact your local family planning clinic.
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