HIV 101: Does Being HIV-positive Mean I Also Have AIDS?

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HIV 101: Does Being HIV-positive Mean I Also Have AIDS?
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Also called: Acquired immunodeficiency syndrome, AIDS, HIV, Human immunodeficiency virus

HIV stands for human immunodeficiency virus. It harms your immune system by destroying a type of white blood cell that helps your body fight infection. This puts you at risk for serious infections and certain cancers.

What is AIDS?

AIDS stands for acquired immunodeficiency syndrome. It is the final stage of infection with HIV. It happens when the body's immune system is badly damaged because of the virus. Not everyone with HIV develops AIDS.

How does HIV spread?

HIV can spread in different ways:

  • Through unprotected sex with a person with HIV. This is the most common way that it spreads.
  • By sharing drug needles
  • Through contact with the blood of a person with HIV
  • From mother to baby during pregnancy, childbirth, or breastfeeding

Who is at risk for HIV infection?

Anyone can get HIV, but certain groups have a higher risk of getting it:

  • People who have another sexually transmitted disease (STD). Having an STD can increase your risk of getting or spreading HIV.
  • People who inject drugs with shared needles
  • • Gay and bisexual men, especially those who are Black/African American or Hispanic/Latino American
  • People who engage in risky sexual behaviors, such as not using condoms

What are the symptoms of HIV/AIDS?

The first signs of HIV infection may be flu- symptoms:

These symptoms may come and go within two to four weeks. This stage is called acute HIV infection.

If the infection is not treated, it becomes chronic HIV infection. Often, there are no symptoms during this stage. If it is not treated, eventually the virus will weaken your body's immune system.

Then the infection will progress to AIDS. This is the late stage of HIV infection. With AIDS, your immune system is badly damaged. You can get more and more severe infections.

These are known as opportunistic infections (OIs).

Some people may not feel sick during the earlier stages of HIV infection. So the only way to know for sure whether you have HIV is to get tested.

How do I know if I have HIV?

A blood test can tell if you have HIV infection. Your health care provider can do the test, or you can use a home testing kit. You can also use the CDC Testing Locator to find free testing sites.

What are the treatments for HIV/AIDS?

There is no cure for HIV infection, but it can be treated with medicines. This is called antiretroviral therapy (ART). ART can make HIV infection a manageable chronic condition. It also reduces the risk of spreading the virus to others.

Most people with HIV live long and healthy lives if they get and stay on ART. It's also important to take care of yourself. Making sure that you have the support you need, living a healthy lifestyle, and getting regular medical care can help you enjoy a better quality of life.

Can HIV/AIDS be prevented?

You can reduce the risk of spreading HIV by

  • Getting tested for HIV
  • Choosing less risky sexual behaviors. This includes limiting the number of sexual partners you have and using latex condoms every time you have sex. If your or your partner is allergic to latex, you can use polyurethane condoms.
  • Getting tested and treated for sexually transmitted diseases (STDs)
  • Not injecting drugs
  • Talking to your health care provider about medicines to prevent HIV:
    • PrEP (pre-exposure prophylaxis) is for people who don't already have HIV but are at very high risk of getting it. PrEP is daily medicine that can reduce this risk.
    • PEP (post-exposure prophylaxis) is for people who have possibly been exposed to HIV. It is only for emergency situations. PEP must be started within 72 hours after a possible exposure to HIV.

NIH: National Institutes of Health

  • Symptoms of HIV (; National Institutes of Health, Office of AIDS Research)
  • Glossary (; National Institutes of Health, Office of AIDS Research)
  • HIV Life Cycle (National Institutes of Health, Office of AIDS Research) Also in Spanish
  • HIV and AIDS (Nemours Foundation)

The information on this site should not be used as a substitute for professional medical care or advice. Contact a health care provider if you have questions about your health.



HIV 101: Does Being HIV-positive Mean I Also Have AIDS?

HIV (human immunodeficiency virus) is a that attacks the immune system. The immune system becomes weaker, making it harder for the body to fight off infections and some kinds of cancers.

Most people who are diagnosed early and take medicines for HIV can live long, healthy lives.

What Is AIDS?

AIDS (acquired immune deficiency syndrome) happens after someone has had HIV for many years. In AIDS, the immune system is severely weakened. Serious infections and health problems happen.

Medicines can help prevent HIV from developing into AIDS.

How Do People Get HIV?

HIV spreads when infected blood or body fluids (such as semen or vaginal fluids) enter the body. This can happen:

  • during sex (especially anal sex and vaginal sex)
  • through sharing needles for injecting drugs or tattooing
  • by getting stuck with a needle with an infected person's blood on it

HIV also can pass from mother to child during pregnancy, childbirth, or breastfeeding.

HIV is NOT spread through:

  • pee, poop, spit, throw-up, or sweat (as long as no blood is present)
  • coughing or sneezing
  • holding hands
  • sharing eating utensils or drinking glasses

What Are the Signs & Symptoms of HIV and AIDS?

When first infected with HIV, a person may have:

  • fever
  • swollen glands
  • painful ulcers in the mouth or around the anus or penis
  • headache
  • rash
  • muscle and joint pain

These symptoms go away in a few weeks. In the first few years after infection, someone with HIV may have mild symptoms, swollen glands.

Because the symptoms of HIV can be mild at first, some people might not know they're infected. They can spread HIV to others without even knowing it.

After a few years, other symptoms start, including:

  • diarrhea
  • weight loss
  • increased number of infections
  • infections that are more severe than is typical

Without treatment, HIV can lead to a very weakened immune system and progress to AIDS. Illnesses that happen in AIDS are called «AIDS-defining conditions.»

AIDS-defining conditions include:

  • very fast and severe weight loss (called wasting syndrome)
  • a lung infection called pneumocystis pneumonia
  • Kaposi sarcoma (a type of skin cancer)
  • lymphoma (cancer in immune system cells)

What Causes HIV and AIDS?

HIV destroys CD4 cells (also called T cells). CD4 cells are part of the immune system. They fight germs and help prevent some kinds of cancers.

How Is HIV Diagnosed?

Health care providers usually diagnose HIV through blood tests. Someone who has HIV is said to be «HIV positive.»

Tests also are available without a prescription at the drugstore. You can do the test at home.

How Is AIDS Diagnosed?

HIV is diagnosed as AIDS when someone:

  • has fewer than 200 CD4 cellsor
  • develops an AIDS-defining condition

How Are HIV and AIDS Treated?

Medicines can help people with HIV stay healthy. They can also prevent HIV from progressing to AIDS.

Health care providers prescribe a combination of different medicines for people with HIV and AIDS. They must be taken exactly as prescribed or they won't work. These medicines:

  • help keep the number of CD4 cells high
  • reduce the viral load of HIV (how much HIV is in the body)

Regular blood tests will check the number of CD4 cells in the body (called the CD4 cell count) and the viral load.

If an HIV-positive person's CD4 count gets low, doctors prescribe daily antibiotics. This prevents pneumocystis pneumonia, which happens in people with weakened immune systems.

Can HIV Be Prevented?

To reduce the risk of getting HIV, people who are sexually active should:

  • use a condom every time they have sex (including vaginal, oral, or anal sex)
  • get tested for HIV and make sure all partners do too
  • reduce their number of sexual partners
  • get tested and treated for STDs (sexually transmitted diseases); having an STD increases the risk of HIV infection
  • consider taking a medicine every day (called PrEP or pre-exposure prophylaxis) if they are at very high risk of getting infected (for example, if they are in a sexual relationship with someone with HIV)

For everyone:

  • Do not inject drugs or share any kind of needle.
  • Do not share razors or other personal objects that may touch blood.
  • Do not touch anyone else's blood from a cut or sore.

Looking Ahead

Treatment has improved greatly for people with HIV. By taking medicines and getting regular medical care, HIV-positive people can live long and healthy lives. 

People with HIV need a medical care team for the best treatment and support.

If you or someone you know has HIV or AIDS it is important to:

  • goes to all doctor visits
  • takes all medicines exactly as directed
  • goes for all follow-up blood tests
  • understands what HIV/AIDS is and how it spreads
  • is physically active, gets enough sleep, and eats well


HIV 101

HIV 101: Does Being HIV-positive Mean I Also Have AIDS?

HIV stands for human immunodeficiency virus. “Human” means that this particular virus infects only human beings. “Immunodeficiency” means it attacks the immune system, the body’s natural defense system against disease and infection.

“Virus” means it is a microscopic organism that needs a living host to grow and reproduce. HIV uses specific cells of your immune system to grow.

When HIV has used one of these cells to grow, the cell can no longer function effectively, leaving your body without a part of its immune system.

How is HIV transmitted?

HIV is spread most commonly through blood, semen, vaginal fluids, and breast milk. People get HIV from contact with these fluids. There are four common modes of HIV transmission:

  1.  Unprotected Sexual Contact
  2.  Blood Contact or IV Drug Use
  3. Mother to Child transmission

HIV is not spread through everyday contact such as hugging, kissing, using the same toilet, or via insect bites.

How can I protect myself?

The most important thing to know about HIV/AIDS is that it is preventable. If you abstain from IV drug use and risky sexual contact, you are virtually at no risk for transmission of HIV.

Otherwise, the following easy risk reduction practices can help to decrease your chances of HIV transmission:

  • Practice Safer Sex. Many of the things that feel good are safe because no blood, semen, or vaginal secretions get into the body. This includes hugging, kissing, fantasizing, masturbation, and massage.
  • Use Safer Sex Materials.
    • Latex or synthetic (polyisoprene) condoms. Unless you are 100% sure your partner is not infected with HIV, reduce your risk by using a latex or synthetic condom (rubber) from start to finish every time you have sex.
    • Use spermicides. Spermicides found in birth control foams, jellies, and lubricants are best used along with condoms, not in place of them.
    • Use only water-based lubricants. Lubricants containing oil, Vaseline(R) petroleum jelly, can damage a condom and cause it to break.
  • Never share needles. If you shoot drugs, seek help to stop. If you must share, clean your needle.
  • Don’t mix alcohol or other drugs with sex. They might cloud your judgment and lead to unsafe sex.
  • Don’t share sex toys. They have body fluids and possibly blood on them.
  • Get tested. If you have ever done IV drugs or engaged in risky sexual contact, get tested; then you can have peace of mind.

Current Statistics

  • The United States has one of the largest HIV epidemics in the world, with an estimated 1.2 million people. (
  • 1 in every 8 people living with HIV in the U.S. are unaware that they are infected. (aids.


  • Compared with other races and ethnicities, African Americans account for a higher proportion of new HIV infections, those living with HIV, and those ever diagnosed with AIDS. (cdc.


  • 1/3 of the general US population believes at least ONE myth about HIV transmission (POZ Magazine)
  • More than 20,000 people have been diagnosed with HIV in Washington State (Washington State Department of Health)
  • 85% of persons living with HIV/AIDS in Washington state are male.

    (Washington State Department of Health)

  •  Pierce County has the second highest incidence of new HIV infections. (Washington State Department of Health)
  • 35% of those infected with HIV/AIDS in Pierce County are people of color (Washington State Department of Health)

Medication Adherence (taking your meds)

Medication adherence or treatment adherence refers to taking medication exactly as prescribed by a doctor. Taking the right medication at the same time every day, without missing a dose, can help make the medication be more effective and can prevent drug resistance.

  • Only half of Americans diagnosed with HIV are receiving treatment, and only 28% of all Americans with HIV have virus levels that are fully suppressed. (


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