HIV is a virus spread through certain body fluids that attacks the body’s immune system, specifically the CD4 cells, often called T cells. Over time, HIV can destroy so many of these cells that the body can’t fight off infections and disease. These special cells help the immune system fight off infections. Untreated, HIV reduces the number of CD4 cells (T cells) in the body. This damage to the immune system makes it harder and harder for the body to fight off infections and some other diseases. Opportunistic infections or cancers take advantage of a very weak immune system and signal that the person has AIDS. Learn more about the stages of HIV and how to know whether you’re infected.
HIV stands for human immunodeficiency virus. It is the virus that can lead to acquired immunodeficiency syndrome, or AIDS. Unlike some other viruses, the human body cannot get rid of HIV. That means that once you have HIV, you have it for life.

 

No safe and effective cure currently exists, but scientists are working hard to find one, and remain hopeful. Meanwhile, with proper medical care, HIV can be controlled. Treatment for HIV is often called antiretroviral therapy or ART. It can dramatically prolong the lives of many people infected with HIV and lower their chance of infecting others. Before the introduction of ART in the mid-1990s, people with HIV could progress to AIDS in just a few years. Today, someone diagnosed with HIV and treated before the disease is far advanced can have a nearly normal life expectancy.

 

HIV affects specific cells of the immune system, called CD4 cells, or T cells. Over time, HIV can destroy so many of these cells that the body can’t fight off infections and disease. When this happens, HIV infection leads to AIDS.

 

HIV stands for human immunodeficiency virus. It is the virus that can lead to acquired immunodeficiency syndrome or AIDS if not treated. Unlike some other viruses, the human body can’t get rid of HIV completely, even with treatment. So once you get HIV, you have it for life.

 

HIV attacks the body’s immune system, specifically the CD4 cells (T cells), which help the immune system fight off infections. Untreated, HIV reduces the number of CD4 cells (T cells) in the body, making the person more likely to get other infections or infection-related cancers. Over time, HIV can destroy so many of these cells that the body can’t fight off infections and disease. These opportunistic infections or cancers take advantage of a very weak immune system and signal that the person has AIDS, the last stage of HIV infection.

 

No effective cure currently exists, but with proper medical care, HIV can be controlled. The medicine used to treat HIV is called antiretroviral therapy or ART. If taken the right way, every day, this medicine can dramatically prolong the lives of many people infected with HIV, keep them healthy, and greatly lower their chance of infecting others. Before the introduction of ART in the mid-1990s, people with HIV could progress to AIDS in just a few years. Today, someone diagnosed with HIV and treated before the disease is far advanced can live nearly as long as someone who does not have HIV.

 

Learn about how to protect yourself, and get information tailored to meet your needs from CDC’sHIV Risk Reduction Tool(BETA).
Scientists identified a type of chimpanzee in Central Africa as the source of HIV infection in humans. They believe that the chimpanzee version of the immunodeficiency virus (called simian immunodeficiency virus, or SIV) most likely was transmitted to humans and mutated into HIV when humans hunted these chimpanzees for meat and came into contact with their infected blood. Studies show that HIV may have jumped from apes to humans as far back as the late 1800s. Over decades, the virus slowly spread across Africa and later into other parts of the world. We know that the virus has existed in the United States since at least the mid to late 1970s.
Learn about how to protect yourself, and get information tailored to meet your needs from CDC’s HIV Risk Reduction Tool (BETA).

When people get HIV and don’t receive treatment, they will typically progress through three stages of disease. Medicine to treat HIV, known as antiretroviral therapy (ART), helps people at all stages of the disease if taken the right way, every day. Treatment can slow or prevent progression from one stage to the next. It can also dramatically reduce the chance of transmitting HIV to someone else.

Stage 1: Acute HIV infectionWithin 2 to 4 weeks after infection with HIV, people may experience a flu-like illness, which may last for a few weeks. This is the body’s natural response to infection. When people have acute HIV infection, they have a large amount of virus in their blood and are very contagious. But people with acute infection are often unaware that they’re infected because they may not feel sick right away or at all. To know whether someone has acute infection, either a fourth-generation antibody/antigen test or a nucleic acid (NAT) test is necessary. If you think you have been exposed to HIV through sex or drug use and you have flu-like symptoms, seek medical care and ask for a test to diagnose acute infection.

Stage 2: Clinical latency (HIV inactivity or dormancy)This period is sometimes called asymptomatic HIV infection or chronic HIV infection. During this phase, HIV is still active but reproduces at very low levels. People may not have any symptoms or get sick during this time. For people who aren’t taking medicine to treat HIV, this period can last a decade or longer, but some may progress through this phase faster. People who are taking medicine to treat HIV (ART) the right way, every day may be in this stage for several decades. It’s important to remember that people can still transmit HIV to others during this phase, although people who are on ART and stay virally suppressed (having a very low level of virus in their blood) are much less likely to transmit HIV than those who are not virally suppressed. At the end of this phase, a person’s viral load starts to go up and the CD4 cell count begins to go down. As this happens, the person may begin to have symptoms as the virus levels increase in the body, and the person moves into Stage 3.

Stage 3: Acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS)AIDS is the most severe phase of HIV infection. People with AIDS have such badly damaged immune systems that they get an increasing number of severe illnesses, called opportunistic illnesses.

Without treatment, people with AIDS typically survive about 3 years. Common symptoms of AIDS include chills, fever, sweats, swollen lymph glands, weakness, and weight loss. People are diagnosed with AIDS when their CD4 cell count drops below 200 cells/mm or if they develop certain opportunistic illnesses. People with AIDS can have a high viral load and be very infectious.

Learn about how to protect yourself, and get information tailored to meet your needs from CDC’sHIV Risk Reduction Tool(BETA).

The only way to know for sure whether you have HIV is to get tested. Knowing your status is important because it helps you make healthy decisions to prevent getting or transmitting HIV.

Some people may experience a flu-like illness within 2 to 4 weeks after infection (Stage 1 HIV infection). But some people may not feel sick during this stage. Flu-like symptoms include fever, chills, rash, night sweats, muscle aches, sore throat, fatigue, swollen lymph nodes, or mouth ulcers. These symptoms can last anywhere from a few days to several weeks. During this time, HIV infection may not show up on an HIV test, but people who have it are highly infectious and can spread the infection to others.

If you have these symptoms, that doesn’t mean you have HIV. Each of these symptoms can be caused by other illnesses. But if you have these symptoms after a potential exposure to HIV, see a health care provider and tell them about your risk. The only way to determine whether you are infected is to be tested for HIV infection.

To find places near you that offer confidential HIV testing,

You can also use a home testing kit, available for purchase in most pharmacies and online.

After you get tested, it’s important to find out the result of your test so you can talk to your health care provider about treatment options if you’re HIV-positive or learn ways to prevent getting HIV if you’re HIV-negative.

Learn about how to protect yourself, and get information tailored to meet your needs from CDC’sHIV Risk Reduction Tool(BETA).

 

No effective cure currently exists for HIV. But with proper medical care, HIV can be controlled. Treatment for HIV is called antiretroviral therapy or ART. If taken the right way, every day, ART can dramatically prolong the lives of many people infected with HIV, keep them healthy, and greatly lower their chance of infecting others. Before the introduction of ART in the mid-1990s, people with HIV could progress to AIDS (the last stage of HIV infection) in a few years. Today, someone diagnosed with HIV and treated before the disease is far advanced can live nearly as long as someone who does not have HIV.

Learn about how to protect yourself, and get information tailored to meet your needs from CDC’sHIV Risk Reduction Tool(BETA).

Content provided and maintained by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Please see the system usage guidelines and disclaimer.

HIV: What’s Going on Inside Your Body

You may look fine. You may feel fine. But the virus is working away, causing harm to the body. That’s the trick HIV plays. Watch this video to see what HIV does and how treatment can help.

Myths persist about how HIV is transmitted. This section provides the facts about HIV risk from different types of sex, injection drug use, and other activities.

You can get or transmit HIV only through specific activities. Most commonly, people get or transmit HIV through sexual behaviors and needle or syringe use.

Only certain body fluids—blood, semen (cum), pre-seminal fluid (pre-cum), rectal fluids, vaginal fluids, and breast milk—from a person who has HIV can transmit HIV. These fluids must come in contact with a mucous membrane or damaged tissue or be directly injected into the bloodstream (from a needle or syringe) for transmission to occur. Mucous membranes are found inside the rectum, vagina, penis, and mouth.

In the United States, HIV is spread mainly by

  • Sharing needles or syringes, rinse water, or other equipment (works) used to prepare drugs for injection with someone who has HIV. HIV can live in a used needle up to 42 days depending on temperature and other factors.

Less commonly, HIV may be spread

In extremely rare cases, HIV has been transmitted by

Learn more about how to protect yourself and get information tailored to meet your needs from CDC’s HIV Risk Reduction Tool(BETA).

Yes. In fact, having anal sex is the riskiest type of sex for getting or spreading HIV.

HIV can be found in the blood, semen (cum), preseminal fluid (pre-cum), or rectal fluid of a person infected with the virus. The bottom  is at greater risk of getting HIV because the lining of the rectum is thin and may allow HIV to enter the body during anal sex, but the top is also at risk because HIV can enter through the opening of the penis or through small cuts, abrasions, or open sores on the penis. See the Prevention Q&As for more information.

Yes. Vaginal sex is the sexual behavior with the second-highest risk for getting or transmitting HIV.

It is possible for either partner to get HIV from vaginal sex.

When a woman has vaginal sex with a partner who’s HIV-positive, HIV can enter her body through the mucous membranes that line the vagina and cervix. Most women who get HIV get it from vaginal sex.

Men can also get HIV from having vaginal sex with a woman who’s HIV-positive. This is because vaginal fluid and blood can carry HIV. Men get HIV through the opening at the tip of the penis (or urethra); the foreskin if they’re not circumcised; or small cuts, scratches, or open sores anywhere on the penis. See the Prevention Q&As for information on how to lower your risk of getting HIV from vaginal sex.

Learn more about how to protect yourself and get information tailored to meet your needs from CDC’s HIV Risk Reduction Tool(BETA).

The chance that an HIV-negative person will get HIV from oral sex with an HIV-positive partner is extremely low.

Oral sex involves putting the mouth on the penis (fellatio), vagina (cunnilingus), or anus (anilingus). In general, there’s little to no risk of getting or transmitting HIV through oral sex.

Factors that may increase the risk of transmitting HIV through oral sex are ejaculation in the mouth with oral ulcers, bleeding gums, genital sores, and the presence of other sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), which may or may not be visible.

You can get other STDs from oral sex. And, if you get feces in your mouth during anilingus, you can get hepatitis A and B, parasites like Giardia, and bacteria like Shigella, Salmonella, Campylobacter, and E. coli.

For information on how to lower your risk of getting HIV or other STDs from oral sex, see Oral Sex and HIV Risk.

Learn more about how to protect yourself and get information tailored to meet your needs from CDC’s HIV Risk Reduction Tool(BETA).

How well does HIV survive outside the body?

HIV does not survive long outside the human body (such as on surfaces), and it cannot reproduce outside a human host. It is not spread by

Learn more about how to protect yourself and get information tailored to meet your needs from CDC’s HIV Risk Reduction Tool (BETA).

Is there a connection between HIV and other sexually transmitted infections?

Yes. Having another sexually transmitted disease (STD) can increase the risk of getting or transmitting HIV.

If you have another STD, you’re more likely to get or transmit HIV to others. Some of the most common STDs include gonorrhea, chlamydia, syphilis, trichomoniasis, human papillomavirus (HPV), genital herpes, and hepatitis. The only way to know for sure if you have an STD is to get tested. If you’re sexually active, you and your partners should get tested for STDs (including HIV if you’re HIV-negative) regularly, even if you don’t have symptoms.

If you are HIV-negative but have an STD, you are about 3 times as likely to get HIV if you have unprotected sex with someone who has HIV. There are two ways that having an STD can increase the likelihood of getting HIV. If the STD causes irritation of the skin (for example, from syphilis, herpes, or human papillomavirus), breaks or sores may make it easier for HIV to enter the body during sexual contact. Even STDs that cause no breaks or open sores (for example, chlamydia, gonorrhea, trichomoniasis) can increase your risk by causing inflammation that increases the number of cells that can serve as targets for HIV.

If you are HIV-positive and also infected with another STD, you are about 3 times as likely as other HIV-infected people to spread HIV through sexual contact. This appears to happen because there is an increased concentration of HIV in the semen and genital fluids of HIV-positive people who also are infected with another STD.

For more information about the connection between HIV and other STDs, see STDs and HIV. To get tested for HIV or other STDs, find a testing site near you.

Learn more about how to protect yourself and get information tailored to meet your needs from CDC’sHIV Risk Reduction Tool(BETA).

Does my HIV-positive partner’s viral load affect my risk of getting HIV?

Yes, as an HIV-positive person’s viral load goes down, the chance of transmitting HIV goes down.

Viral load is the amount of HIV in the blood of someone who is HIV-positive. When the viral load is very low, it is called viral suppression. Undetectable viral load is when the amount of HIV in the blood is so low that it can’t be measured.

In general, the higher someone’s viral load, the more likely that person is to transmit HIV. People who have HIV but are in care, taking HIV medicines, and have a very low or undetectable viral load are much less likely to transmit HIV than people who have HIV and do not have a low viral load.

However, a person with HIV can still potentially transmit HIV to a partner even if they have an undetectable viral load, because

If you’re HIV-positive, getting into care and taking HIV medicines (called antiretroviral therapy or ART) the right way, every day will give you the greatest chance to get and stay virally suppressed, live a longer, healthier life, and reduce the chance of transmitting HIV to your partners.

If you’re HIV-negative and have an HIV-positive partner, encourage your partner to get into care and take HIV treatment medicines.

Taking other actions, like using a condom the right way every time you have sex or taking daily medicine to prevent HIV (called pre-exposure prophylaxis or PrEP) if you’re HIV-negative, can lower your chances of transmitting or getting HIV even more.

Learn more about how to protect yourself and get information tailored to meet your needs from CDC’sHIV Risk Reduction Tool(BETA).

Can I get HIV from injecting drugs?

Yes. Your risk for getting HIV is very high if you use needles or works (such as cookers, cotton, or water) after someone with HIV has used them.

People who inject drugs, hormones, steroids, or silicone can get HIV by sharing needles or syringes and other injection equipment. The needles and equipment may have someone else’s blood in them, and blood can transmit HIV. Likewise, you’re at risk for getting hepatitis B and C if you share needles and works because these infections are also transmitted through blood.

Another reason people who inject drugs can get HIV (and other sexually transmitted diseases) is that when people are high, they’re more likely to have risky sex.

Stopping injection and other drug use can lower your chances of getting HIV a lot. You may need help to stop or cut down using drugs, but many resources are available. To find a substance abuse treatment center near you, check out the locator tools on SAMHSA.gov or AIDS.gov, or call 1-800-662-HELP (4357).

If you keep injecting drugs, you can lower your risk for getting HIV by using only new, sterile needles and works each time you inject. Never share needles or works. For more information on how to lower your risk, see How can I prevent getting HIV from drug use?

Learn more about how to protect yourself, and get information tailored to meet your needs from CDC’sHIV Risk Reduction Tool(BETA).

Can I get HIV from using other kinds of drugs?

When you’re drunk or high, you’re more likely to make decisions that put you at risk for HIV, such as having sex without a condom.

Drinking alcohol, particularly binge drinking, and using “club drugs” like Ecstasy, ketamine, GHB, and poppers can alter your judgment, lower your inhibitions, and impair your decisions about sex or other drug use. You may be more likely to have unplanned and unprotected sex, have a harder time using a condom the right way every time you have sex, have more sexual partners, or use other drugs, including injection drugs or meth. Those behaviors can increase your risk of exposure to HIV. If you have HIV, they can also increase your risk of spreading HIV to others. Being drunk or high affects your ability to make safe choices.

If you’re going to a party or another place where you know you’ll be drinking or using drugs, you can bring a condom so that you can reduce your risk if you have vaginal or anal sex.

Therapy, medicines, and other methods are available to help you stop or cut down on drinking or using drugs. Talk with a counselor, doctor, or other health care provider about options that might be right for you. To find a substance abuse treatment center near you, check out the locator tools on SAMHSA.gov or AIDS.gov, or call 1-800-662-HELP (4357).

Learn more about how to protect yourself, and get information tailored to meet your needs from CDC’sHIV Risk Reduction Tool(BETA).

If I already have HIV, can I get another kind of HIV?

Yes. This is called HIV superinfection.

HIV superinfection is when a person with HIV gets infected with another strain of the virus. The new strain of HIV can replace the original strain or remain along with the original strain.

The effects of superinfection differ from person to person. Superinfection may cause some people to get sicker faster because they become infected with a new strain of the virus that is resistant to the medicine (antiretroviral therapy or ART) they’re taking to treat their original infection.

Research suggests that a hard-to-treat superinfection is rare. Taking medicine to treat HIV (ART) may reduce someone’s chance of getting a superinfection.

Learn more about how to protect yourself, and get information tailored to meet your needs from CDC’sHIV Risk Reduction Tool(BETA).

Are health care workers at risk of getting HIV on the job?

The risk of health care workers being exposed to HIV on the job (occupational exposure) is very low, especially if they use protective practices and personal protective equipment to prevent HIV and other blood-borne infections. For health care workers on the job, the main risk of HIV transmission is from being stuck with an HIV-contaminated needle or other sharp object. However, even this risk is small. Scientists estimate that the risk of HIV infection from being stuck with a needle used on an HIV-infected person is less than 1%.

For more information on preventing occupational exposure to HIV, see Occupational HIV Transmission and Prevention Among Health Care Workers.

Learn more about how to protect yourself, and get information tailored to meet your needs from CDC’sHIV Risk Reduction Tool(BETA).

Can I get HIV from receiving medical care?

Although HIV transmission is possible in health care settings, it is extremely rare.

Careful practice of infection control, including universal precautions (using protective practices and personal protective equipment to prevent HIV and other blood-borne infections), protects patients as well as health care providers from possible HIV transmission in medical and dental offices and hospitals.

The risk of getting HIV from receiving blood transfusions, blood products, or organ/tissue transplants that are contaminated with HIV is extremely small because of rigorous testing of the US blood supply and donated organs and tissues.

It is important to know that you cannot get HIV from donating blood. Blood collection procedures are highly regulated and safe.

For more information on preventing occupational exposure to HIV, see Occupational HIV Transmission and Prevention Among Health Care Workers.

Learn more about how to protect yourself, and get information tailored to meet your needs from CDC’sHIV Risk Reduction Tool(BETA).

Can I get HIV from casual contact (“social kissing,” shaking hands, hugging, using a toilet, drinking from the same glass, or the sneezing and coughing of an infected person)?

No. HIV isn’t transmitted

Only certain body fluids—blood, semen (cum), pre-seminal fluid (pre-cum), rectal fluids, vaginal fluids, and breast milk—from an HIV-infected person can transmit HIV. Most commonly, people get or transmit HIV through sexual behaviors and needle or syringe use. Babies can also get HIV from an HIV-positive mother during pregnancy, birth, or breastfeeding. See How is HIV passed from one person to another?

Learn more about how to protect yourself, and get information tailored to meet your needs from CDC’sHIV Risk Reduction Tool(BETA).

Can I get HIV from a tattoo or a body piercing?

There are no known cases in the United States of anyone getting HIV this way. However, it is possible to get HIV from a reused or not properly sterilized tattoo or piercing needle or other equipment, or from contaminated ink.

It’s possible to get HIV from tattooing or body piercing if the equipment used for these procedures has someone else’s blood in it or if the ink is shared. The risk of getting HIV this way is very low, but the risk increases when the person doing the procedure is unlicensed, because of the potential for unsanitary practices such as sharing needles or ink. If you get a tattoo or a body piercing, be sure that the person doing the procedure is properly licensed and that they use only new or sterilized needles, ink, and other supplies.

Learn more about how to protect yourself, and get information tailored to meet your needs from CDC’sHIV Risk Reduction Tool(BETA).

Can I get HIV from being spit on or scratched by an HIV-infected person?

No. HIV isn’t spread through saliva, and there is no risk of transmission from scratching because no body fluids are transferred between people.

Learn more about how to protect yourself, and get information tailored to meet your needs from CDC’sHIV Risk Reduction Tool(BETA).

Can I get HIV from mosquitoes?

No. HIV is not transmitted by mosquitoes, ticks, or any other insects.

Learn more about how to protect yourself, and get information tailored to meet your needs from CDC’sHIV Risk Reduction Tool(BETA).

Can I get HIV from food?

You can’t get HIV from consuming food handled by an HIV-infected person. Even if the food contained small amounts of HIV-infected blood or semen, exposure to the air, heat from cooking, and stomach acid would destroy the virus.

Though it is very rare, HIV can be spread by eating food that has been pre-chewed by an HIV-infected person. The contamination occurs when infected blood from a caregiver’s mouth mixes with food while chewing. The only known cases are among infants.

Learn more about how to protect yourself, and get information tailored to meet your needs from CDC’sHIV Risk Reduction Tool(BETA).

Are lesbians or other women who have sex with women at risk for HIV?

Case reports of female-to-female transmission of HIV are rare. The well-documented risk of female-to-male transmission shows that vaginal fluids and menstrual blood may contain the virus and that exposure to these fluids through mucous membranes (in the vagina or mouth) could potentially lead to HIV infection.

Learn more about how to protect yourself, and get information tailored to meet your needs from CDC’sHIV Risk Reduction Tool(BETA).

Is the risk of HIV different for different people?

Some groups of people in the United States are more likely to get HIV than others because of many factors, including the status of their sex partners, their risk behaviors, and where they live.

When you live in a community where many people have HIV infection, the chances of having sex or sharing needles or other injection equipment with someone who has HIV are higher. You can use CDC’s HIV, STD, hepatitis, and tuberculosis atlas to see the percentage of people with HIV (“prevalence”) in different US communities. Within any community, the prevalence of HIV can vary among different populations.

Gay and bisexual men have the largest number of new diagnoses in the United States. Blacks/African Americans and Hispanics/Latinos are disproportionately affected by HIV compared to other racial and ethnic groups. Also, transgender women who have sex with men are among the groups at highest risk for HIV infection, and injection drug users remain at significant risk for getting HIV.

Risky behaviors, like having anal or vaginal sex without using a condom or taking medicines to prevent or treat HIV, and sharing needles or syringes play a big role in HIV transmission. Anal sex is the highest-risk sexual behavior. If you don’t have HIV, being a receptive partner (or bottom) for anal sex is the highest-risk sexual activity for getting HIV. If you do have HIV, being the insertive partner (or top) for anal sex is the highest-risk sexual activity for transmitting HIV.

But there are more tools available today to prevent HIV than ever before. Choosing less risky sexual behaviors, taking medicines to prevent and treat HIV, and using condoms with lubricants are all highly effective ways to reduce the risk of getting or transmitting HIV. Learn more about these and other strategies to prevent HIV.

For more information about the risk for different groups of people, see HIV in the United States and HIV by Geographical Distribution.

Learn more about how to protect yourself, and get information tailored to meet your needs from CDC’s HIV Risk Reduction Tool (BETA).

Content provided and maintained by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Please see the system usage guidelines and disclaimer.

A lot has changed since HIV and AIDS were first identified in the U.S. Condoms are no longer the end-all when it comes to HIV prevention. Today, there are a variety of options to prevent HIV. Here is a quick and easy guide to selecting the safe-sex method that works for you.

A lot has changed since HIV and AIDS were first identified in the U.S.

Condoms are no longer the end-all when it comes to HIV prevention.

Today, there are a variety of options to prevent HIV. Here is a quick and

easy guide to selecting the safe-sex method that works for you.

 

Condoms

There haven’t been enough studies on the efficacy of condoms in anal sex,

but in a nutshell, condoms are the easiest and cheapest way to prevent HIV.

However, if condoms were all it took to prevent HIV, new infections

wouldn’t be on the rise among young gay and bisexual men. The majority of

gay men reported that they failed to wear condoms 100 percent of the time.

Overall, attempted consistent condom use has been found to be 70 percent

effective in preventing HIV infection. In other words, condoms work, but

only if you use them. If you are someone who doesn’t always manage to slip

on a rubber, condoms aren’t the fail-safe method you might have thought.

 

Safe-Sex Suggestion: The standard condom was created for vaginal sex.

Buying extra-strong condoms or anal condoms, decreases risk of condom

failure for gay men.

 

Pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP)

Although pre-exposure prophylaxis, or PrEP, for HIV prevention might not

be as easy to use as condoms, that very well may be why it works better for

you. PrEP requires you to take real action to ensure your sexual safety. The

use of PrEP requires a prescription from your doctor for Truvada, the only

drug so far approved for PrEP, and regular checkups to ensure your health

and compliance. When taken daily, the drug is 99 percent effective in

preventing the user from contracting HIV from a partner. Even if a user

misses one or two doses per week, PrEP’s efficacy remains high. The key

difference between PrEP and condoms is how it is administered. The PrEP

drug is taken with your morning breakfast or right before you go to sleep.

Although it directly impacts your sexual health, taking PrEP is separate from

the sexual experience. Let’s face it; “forgetting” to wear a condom is not the

same thing as forgetting to take a pill.

 

Safe-Sex Suggestion: Set a reminder on your phone so that you never miss a

dose. We all forget from time to time.

 

Condoms + PrEP

Even if you take PrEP religiously, it does not protect against other sexually

transmitted. If you are unfamiliar with your sexual partner and wish to

further protect yourself, the use of condoms and PrEP is your best bet.

 

Treatment as Prevention (TasP)

Think of treatment as prevention, or TasP, as PrEP for HIV-positive people,

but with the added benefit of keeping you alive and healthy. Of course, if

you are living with HIV, there are numerous reasons for you to stay

compliant with your medication, but its use as TasP is probably the most

applicable to your everyday dating life. When you achieve an undetectable

viral load through treatment, which is often just a pill a day, you reduce your

risk or transmitting the virus by 96 percent. But don’t let that 4 percent risk

trip you up. To date, there has never been a confirmed case of someone with

an undetectable viral load transmitting HIV.

 

Safe-Sex Suggestion: Stay on top of your health and use a pillbox. It is all

about the pillbox.

 

Condoms + TasP

As with PrEP, combining condoms with TasP protects against other STIs as

well as HIV. It may also place you or your sexual partner at ease if either of

you are not yet comfortable with the science of TasP. The proper use of

condoms in addition to TasP is 100 percent effective and leaves you worry-

free.

 

Post-exposure prophylaxis (PEP)

Post-exposure prophylaxis, or PEP, is not a first-line effort to prevent HIV,

but a secondary option if you believe you have been exposed to HIV and

TasP, PrEP, or condoms weren’t involved. You can elect to take PEP up to

72 hours after exposure, although it is ideal to start within 24 hours. The

treatment regimen usually involves two or three drugs over a 30-day period

and will be monitored by your doctor. PEP reportedly reduces the chance of

HIV infection by 83 percent but can often come with some unpleasant side

effects such as vomiting, nausea and fatigue. Still, PEP is an excellent option

if you believe you have been exposed to HIV and you run a risk of

seroconversion (becoming HIV-positive).

 

Safe-Sex Suggestion: Don’t wait until you are under stress. Talk to your

doctor about PEP and PrEP before you find yourself in a precarious

predicament.

 

Sero-sorting

Sero-sorting is the act of choosing your sexual partners based on their HIV

status, and it is an outdated, antiquated, and ineffective way to prevent HIV.

One in eight people living with HIV are unaware of that fact, and they

account for one out of five new infections. A study presented at the 2012

Conference of Retroviruses and Opportunistic Infections found that

restricting sex to partners who you think are HIV-negative does not work as

a prevention strategy. The problem is that many people are unaware they are

HIV-positive, and they assert that they are HIV-negative.

Although the use of Truvada as pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) continues

to make headlines, the use of antiretroviral medication as treatment as

prevention (TasP) is one of the most underrated yet most effective ways to

prevent the spread of HIV.

What is TasP, you say? Here are the basics.

TasP is when someone who is HIV-positive achieves an undetectable viral

load through the use of consistent antiretroviral medication. When a person

with HIV has a viral load that is suppressed at undetectable levels, they

reduce their risk of transmitting the disease by 96 percent. To date, there has

not been one confirmed case of someone with a suppressed viral load who

has transmitted HIV.

Frankly, TasP works well and, when evaluated along with the other benefits

associated with antiretroviral meds, it’s simply one of the best HIV

prevention methods out there. Here are five reasons why.

Smaller audience, bigger impact.

An estimated 1.2 million people in the United States are living with HIV.

Although new infection does occur frequently, those who are HIV-positive

represent a more controlled group when it comes to advocating for safer sex

and prevention. However, only 30 percent of people living with HIV are

utilizing TasP by staying consistent with their treatment and maintaining a

suppressed viral load. Plainly, TasP users represent a more targeted, at-risk

audience who have a greater reason to use this prevention method.

It has the added benefit of saving your life.

Not only is TasP one of the most effective and under-utilized form of HIV

prevention among the majority of people with HIV, but it also has one

particular added benefit that makes it stand out from the rest. Unlike PrEP,

PEP, or even condoms, the use of TasP to prevent HIV has the added benefit

of saving an HIV-positive person’s life. Whereas an HIV-negative person

can elect to use PrEP, a person with HIV must stay on treatment in order to

maintain their health. Make no mistake, PrEP is a fabulous and highly

effective form of prevention, but when it comes to the life-saving benefits of

TasP, it’s all the more reason for the user to take advantage of this

prevention tool.

It empowers HIV-positive people.

The majority of people with HIV are not seeking and maintaining treatment

for their disease and therefore aren’t taking advantage of TasP. Although

there are multiple reasons why the majority of HIV-positive folks are not

getting the treatment they need, (including that many don’t know their status)

it can also be attributed to the lack of empowerment people feel when they

are first diagnosed. By educating both HIV-negative and positive people

about the effectiveness and benefits of TasP, those living with HIV can be

empowered by their treatment instead of viewing it as a symbol of stigma.

It reduces stigma and promotes healthy conversation.

If it’s difficult to talk about PrEP without getting bogged down into

anecdotal discussions about worst-case scenarios and slut-shaming rhetoric,

then talking about TasP is usually a non-starter. That’s because the HIV

stigma still very much exists.

When it comes to PrEP and TasP, one is not better or worse than the other.

But when it comes to advocating for PrEP, the inclusion of TasP removes

the barrier between HIV-positive and negative people and encourages

conversation about shared interests in preventing HIV. The use of TasP, and

more importantly, the conversation about TasP can greatly reduce the stigma

of living with HIV and promote healthy discussion between sexual partners.

It works. It really works.

TasP doesn’t work in conjunction with PrEP. It doesn’t work in conjunction

with condoms. It just works, period.

A HIV-positive person who is using TasP as their HIV prevention method

has virtually no risk of transmitting HIV. TasP is the best way for anyone

with HIV to protect themselves from transmission and to have a healthy sex

life. Like PrEP, TasP does not prevent against other STIs and the person

using TasP can choose to use additional prevention methods if he or she

finds them necessarily.

But make no mistake, TasP works. No disclaimers needed.

PEP (post-exposure prophylaxis) means taking antiretroviral medicines (ART) after being potentially exposed to HIV to prevent becoming infected.

PEP should be used only in emergency situations and must be started within 72 hours after a recent possible exposure to HIV. If you think you’ve recently been exposed to HIV during sex or through sharing needles and works to prepare drugs or if you’ve been sexually assaulted, talk to your health care provider or an emergency room doctor about PEP right away.

What is PEP?

PEP stands for post-exposure prophylaxis. It means taking antiretroviral medicines (ART) after being potentially exposed to HIV to prevent becoming infected.

PEP must be started within 72 hours after a recent possible exposure to HIV, but the sooner you start PEP, the better. Every hour counts. If you’re prescribed PEP, you’ll need to take it once or twice daily for 28 days. PEP is effective in preventing HIV when administered correctly, but not 100%.

Learn more about how to protect yourself and get information tailored to meet your needs from CDC’sHIV Risk Reduction Tool(BETA).

Is PEP right for me?

If you’re HIV-negative or don’t know your HIV status, and in the last 72 hours you

  1. think you may have been exposed to HIV during sex (for example, if the condom broke),
  2. shared needles and works to prepare drugs (for example, cotton, cookers, water), or
  3. were sexually assaulted,

talk to your health care provider or an emergency room doctor about PEP right away.

PEP should be used only in emergency situations and must be started within 72 hours after a recent possible exposure to HIV. It is not a substitute for regular use of other proven HIV prevention methods, such as pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP), which means taking HIV medicines daily to lower your chance of getting infected; using condoms the right way every time you have sex; and using only your own new, sterile needles and works every time you inject.

PEP is effective, but not 100%, so you should continue to use condoms with sex partners and safe injection practices while taking PEP. These strategies can protect you from being exposed to HIV again and reduce the chances of transmitting HIV to others if you do become infected while you’re on PEP.

If you’re a health care worker and think you’ve had a possible HIV exposure at work, see the following question.

Learn more about how to protect yourself and get information tailored to meet your needs from CDC’sHIV Risk Reduction Tool(BETA).

I’m a health care worker, and I think I’ve been exposed to HIV at work. Should I take PEP?

PEP should be considered if you’ve had a recent possible exposure to HIV at work. Report your exposure to your supervisor, and seek medical attention immediately.

Occupational transmission of HIV to health care workers is extremely rare, and the proper use of safety devices and barriers can help minimize the risk of exposure while caring for patients with HIV.

A health care worker who has a possible exposure should see a doctor or visit an emergency room immediately. PEP must be started within 72 hours after a recent possible exposure to HIV. The sooner, the better; every hour counts.

CDC issued updated guidelinesin 2013 for the management of health care worker exposures to HIV and recommendations for PEP.

Clinicians caring for health care workers who’ve had a possible exposure can call the PEPline (1-888-448-4911), which offers around-the-clock advice on managing occupational exposures to HIV, as well as hepatitis B and C. Exposed health care workers may also call the PEPline, but they should seek local medical attention first.

Read more about occupational exposure to HIV and strategies to prevent it in this CDC fact sheet.

When should I take PEP?

PEP must be started within 72 hours after a possible exposure. The sooner you start PEP, the better; every hour counts.

Starting PEP as soon as possible after a potential HIV exposure is important. Research has shown that PEP has little or no effect in preventing HIV infection if it is started later than 72 hours after HIV exposure.

If you’re prescribed PEP, you’ll need to take it once or twice daily for 28 days.

Learn more about how to protect yourself and get information tailored to meet your needs from CDC’sHIV Risk Reduction Tool(BETA).

Does PEP have any side effects?

PEP is safe but may cause side effects like nausea in some people. These side effects can be treated and aren’t life-threatening.

Learn more about how to protect yourself and get information tailored to meet your needs from CDC’sHIV Risk Reduction Tool(BETA).

Where can I get PEP?

Your health care provider or an emergency room doctor can prescribe PEP. Talk to them right away if you think you’ve recently been exposed to HIV.

Learn more about how to protect yourself and get information tailored to meet your needs from CDC’sHIV Risk Reduction Tool(BETA).

How can I pay for PEP?

If you’re prescribed PEP after a sexual assault, you may qualify for partial or total reimbursement for medicines and clinical care costs through the Office for Victims of Crime, funded by the US Department of Justice (see the contact information for each state).

If you’re prescribed PEP for another reason and you cannot get insurance coverage (Medicaid, Medicare, private, or employer-based), your health care provider can apply for free PEP medicines through the medication assistance programs run by the manufacturers. Online applications can be faxed to the company, or some companies have special phone lines. These can be handled urgently in many cases to avoid a delay in getting medicine.

If you’re a health care worker who was exposed to HIV on the job, your workplace health insurance or workers’ compensation will usually pay for PEP.

Learn more about how to protect yourself and get information tailored to meet your needs from CDC’sHIV Risk Reduction Tool(BETA).

Can I take a round of PEP every time I have unprotected sex?

PEP should be used only in emergency situations.

PEP is not the right choice for people who may be exposed to HIV frequently—for example, if you often have sex without a condom with a partner who is HIV-positive. Because PEP is given after a potential exposure to HIV, more drugs and higher doses are needed to block infection than with PrEP, or pre-exposureprophylaxis. PrEP is when people at high risk for HIV take HIV medicines (sold under the brand name Truvada) daily to lower their chances of getting HIV. If you are at ongoing risk for HIV, speak to your doctor about PrEP. Also, read our Q&As on PrEP.

Learn more about how to protect yourself and get information tailored to meet your needs from CDC’sHIV Risk Reduction Tool(BETA).

Content provided and maintained by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Please see the system usage guidelines and disclaimer.

Hakuna Truvada – A Public Service Announcement

Right now in the U.S. there are 1.2 million people living with HIV and about 1 in 8 are unaware they have it. WATCH ‘Hakuna Truvada’ and learn about a prevention tool called Truvada as PrEP

HIV: Treat 2 Prevent

There is a connection between HIV treatment and HIV prevention. See how they add up to “Treat 2 Prevent.” And how it can help stop the spread of HIV.

Stopping HIV? The Truvada Revolution

A drug called Truvada is the first FDA-approved means of preventing HIV infection. If an HIV-negative person takes the pill every day, he or she is nearly 99 percent protected from contracting the virus. Controversy continues to surround the broad uptake of Truvada, but the landscape of safer sex and HIV prevention changes fundamentally from this point forward—particularly within the gay male community, the population hit hardest by HIV in America. In this episode of VICE Reports, VICE explores the future of the Truvada and its revolutionary impact on ending HIV/AIDS.

Read More Vice Coverage on PrEP

Talking about HIV is hard and no one expects you to know all the right things to say. But that doesn’t mean you are excused from understanding the basics of HIV, as well as knowing what could offend or ostracize those living with the virus.
If you are one of the many who have been avoiding any and all discussions on HIV, its time for a crash course in what not to say about the virus and the people who are living with it.

Do you know who gave it to you?

First, this question is incredibly rude. If someone just told you they are HIV-positive, they just opened up to you in a big way. The way they got it should be the last thing on your mind. Instead, why don’t you try something like, “So how are you doing?”

Should you really be drinking/smoking/etc.?

Drinking is bad for everyone. Smoking is bad for everyone. You manage your own health and allow your friend to manage his or hers.

I can’t believe you were so stupid. You know how to protect yourself!

Stop right there and ask yourself if you have ever been “so stupid.” Oh, you have, too? Exactly…

I guess you will just always have to wear condoms.

Condoms are an excellent way to have safer sex, but it’s hard for people to accept that the science of HIV has progressed. With TasP and PrEP, a couple does not have to always wear condoms. Gasp!

I would never sleep with someone who has HIV. It’s just too risky.

If you are a gay man, chances are you already have. The biggest risk is having unsafe sex with someone who doesn’t know their status, but assumes they are negative. Have you ever done that before?

HIV is no big deal. Just a pill-a-day, right?

That is right… for about 30 percent of people living with HIV. But for the rest, it can be quite difficult to manage the virus due to the many financial, social and emotional barriers that stand in the way.

That’s what you get for making bad decisions.

Let’s settle this once and for all. When it comes to sex, everyone makes bad decisions now and then. But with HIV, the punishment hardly fits the crime. No one deserves to have HIV, and no one should judge others unless he or she has never once made a mistake in the bedroom.

The drug cocktails are still pretty intense. Some people can’t take them.

We don’t take “drug cocktails” anymore. HIV treatment has advanced tremendously, and most people who are diagnosed today have few side effects if any at all.

Young kids today just don’t care about HIV.

If that is true, it is because we haven’t done a good job of teaching them why they need to care.

 

Dating is hard for anyone, but dating with HIV can seem like attempting advanced mathematics with just a foggy understanding of arithmetic. All of a sudden, you’re expected to discern the correct formulas and grasp the complex equations that come along with mixed-status — also known as serodiscordant — dating and relationships. When is the right time to disclose? How does one discuss sex and safety with one’s partner? And so on and so forth. And you’re just like, “sero-what?” HIV certainly doesn’t make finding the right person any easier. But with these five tips, you can at least get through the dating and disclosure process relatively unscathed, regardless of his status.

If you act like HIV is a big deal, they will, too.

If you are not comfortable with HIV, your date probably won’t be either. Conversely, if you are matter-of-fact about your status and what it means to be safe, chances are they will be more at ease with it as well. Don’t think you always need to have a face-to-face discussion or plead with them to date you despite your status. Don’t make it a big deal, and don’t apologize as if you had done something wrong.

The sooner the better.

You don’t want to become invested until you know you are dating someone worth investing in. So don’t waste your time getting to know someone who could potentially be the kind of jerk who would reject you over your status. You are worth more than that. And if they reject you, they aren’t worth your time. If you tell them before you ever sit down for dinner and they decide against a relationship, you haven’t lost a thing. And you still have time to make new plans.

It starts with a support system.

If you have yet to find the courage to disclose to your family and friends, you can forget about starting a good relationship with someone new. A healthy support system is essential to any successful romantic configuration, regardless of status. You need to be able to talk to your friends about your dating hang-ups and hesitations. And the fear of disclosure is no exception. Get comfortable with the people who are already in your life before trying to add someone to the mix.

Go in with confidence, but without expectations.

Always remember, you are better off alone than with someone who would judge you for your status. No matter how lonely you think you may be, a relationship with the wrong person, especially a judgmental person, is always worse. If your date has a negative reaction to your positive status and acts like a total jerk, consider yourself lucky to have dodged a bullet. It would have only gotten worse.

Remember that stigma has nothing to do with you.

If someone is the type of person who would reject you over your HIV status, no amount of good looks, charm, or personality will convince them otherwise. Their reasons for running away have nothing to do with you and everything to do with their own fears of HIV. If there is a time to educate, it is in the beginning of a relationship. Waiting until the third or fourth date to disclose could make them feel as if you are trying to trick them into being with you. If they are still terrified, let them run and be thankful that you don’t have to live in a world where the boogeyman still exists.

Finding out that you have HIV can be scary, but with the right information it doesn’t have to be.

The moments after learning you’re HIV-positive can seem like a virtual free fall. In a matter of seconds, you are sent into a tailspin of what-if scenarios and your vision is filled with horrific images from a bad movie montage. Your mind races, then stalls completely, working in frantic fits and spurts and grasping onto the nuggets of information you can remember about what it is to be HIV-positive today.

The nurse tells you that you are going to be just fine and that HIV is now a manageable disease. The doctor tells you that if you take care of yourself, you can expect to live the same amount of time as you would have if you were HIV-negative. But still, there is an inescapable fear of the unknown. What does it mean to live with HIV? What is going to have to change in your life, and more importantly, what can you expect to remain the same?

You aren’t alone. There are so many others who have gone through the exact same thing and have already asked all the same burning questions that you need to know the answers to. Below are some quick answers to those questions you probably have.

What do I do now?

The first thing to do is to stop panicking. You are the same person who walked into the clinic before receiving your test results. It may seem like everything has changed, but it hasn’t. Still, there are some things you can do to ease your mind and find your way back to being OK.

Find a doctor who is highly knowledgeable about HIV and is the right fit for you. You might be surprised about how uneducated your average family doctor is about HIV and how to treat it. The last thing you need is to be treated by a doctor who has just as many questions as you have. There are many HIV specialists who know exactly how to treat you, and that includes how to ease your concerns. These doctors can also act as your primary physician, who will keep your HIV diagnosis in mind when minor health issues arise along the way.

I found a doctor — now what?

During your first appointment, your doctor will do your initial lab work. This is to see what your CD4 count and viral load is. Your CD4 count is the number of disease-fighting white blood cells you have in your body and your viral load is the number of copies of HIV that are in your system. Your doctor will also determine whether the virus you have is resistant to any medications, which is unlikely.

This sounds scary, but it doesn’t have to be. No matter what your CD4 count may be, most people can bring their count up by simply taking a single-pill regimen. The same medication can also reduce your viral load to an undetectable level, making it highly improbable for you to transmit the virus to someone else. Most likely, this will be the extent of managing your virus, along with regular checkups with your doctor to make sure that your body is healthy and that your medication is working. The key to staying healthy and keeping an undetectable viral load is to never miss a dose — just as you should with medication for any other ailment.

Can I only have sex with other people who are also HIV-positive?

Of course not! Today, there are multiple ways to have safe sex, and believe it or not, most people are knowledgeable enough to know that informed sex is the safest sex of all, regardless of status. Again, staying compliant with your meds and maintaining an undetectable viral load is the best way to ensure that you never transmit the virus. This method of prevention is for your protection just as much as it is for your partner.

How will I tell my friends and family?

First off, you don’t have to tell anyone except your future sexual partners. But talking about your status may be the best way for you to feel like yourself again. There are probably other people around you who are either HIV-positive or have been affected by HIV in one way or another. The first time you tell someone may be scary, but it gets easier every time. The first step is to just say the three little letters out loud. Start there.

What does it mean to manage my virus?

For most people who are diagnosed today, managing your virus simply means being compliant with a one-pill-a-day regimen. Once you find a doctor, start medication, and achieve an undetectable viral load. You will just need to have your lab work done every four months or so to make sure that everything is all right.

Am I going to die?

Here’s the deal. A person diagnosed today has roughly the same life expectancy as a person who is HIV-negative. However, your virus does make you more susceptible to several other health problems that you need to be aware of. Some of these are cardiovascular disease, kidney problems, and bone density loss. But before you start to panic again, know that these can be prevented with the proper care. Being knowledgeable about what to look out for is the best way to ensure a long and healthy life.

Am I going to get AIDS?

The term AIDS does seem scarier than HIV, doesn’t it? The truth is, many people who are living with HIV will never be diagnosed with AIDS. HIV is a virus; AIDS is a diagnosis that a person receives once the virus reaches a certain point. When your CD4 count dips below 200 and your immune system is so damaged that common illnesses can be life-threatening, your disease is classified as AIDS. As long as you stay on your medication and keep a healthy body and mind, you can keep your CD4 count in the healthy zone and far away from the level of AIDS. And if your CD4 count is already in the danger zone, the correct medication can bring you back up to healthy levels.

Your diagnosis is not the end of anything, but it may be the beginning of living a more informed and health-conscious life.

HIV: The Goal of Undetectable

“Undetectable” means that there is so little HIV in your blood it can’t be measured by a test. See how getting to undetectable can help you protect your health and the people you care about.

The only way to know for sure whether you have HIV is to get tested. This section answers some of the most common questions related to HIV testing, including the types of tests available, where to get one, and what to expect when you get tested.
CDC recommends that everyone between the ages of 13 and 64 get tested for HIV at least once as part of routine health care. About 1 in 8 people in the United States who have HIV don’t know they have it.

People with certain risk factors should get tested more often. If you were HIV-negative the last time you were tested and answer yes to any of the following questions, you should get an HIV test because these things increase your chances of getting HIV:

You should be tested at least once a year if you keep doing any of these things. Sexually active gay and bisexual men may benefit from more frequent testing (for example, every 3 to 6 months).

If you’re pregnant, talk to your health care provider about getting tested for HIV and other ways to protect you and your child from getting HIV. Also, anyone who has been sexually assaulted should get an HIV test as soon as possible after the assault and should consider post-exposure prophylaxis (PEP), taking antiretroviral medicines after being potentially exposed to HIV to prevent becoming infected.

Before having sex for the first time with a new partner, you and your partner should talk about your sexual and drug-use history, disclose your HIV status, and consider getting tested for HIV and learning the results.

Learn more about how to protect yourself, and get information tailored to meet your needs from CDC’s HIV Risk Reduction Tool(BETA).

The only way to know for sure whether you have HIV is to get tested.

Knowing your HIV status gives you powerful information to help you take steps to keep you and your partner healthy.

  • If you test positive, you can take medicine to treat HIV to stay healthy for many years and greatly reduce the chance of transmitting HIV to your sex partner.
  • If you test negative, you have more prevention tools available today to prevent HIV than ever before.

Learn more about how to protect yourself, and get information tailored to meet your needs from CDC’s HIV Risk Reduction Tool(BETA).

Some people who test positive for HIV were not aware of their risk. That’s why CDC recommends that everyone between the ages of 13 and 64 get tested for HIV at least once as part of routine health care.

Even if you are in a monogamous relationship (both you and your partner are having sex only with each other), you should find out for sure whether you or your partner has HIV.

See Should I get tested for HIV? to learn more about who is at high risk for HIV and should be tested more often.

Learn more about how to protect yourself, and get information tailored to meet your needs from CDC’s HIV Risk Reduction Tool(BETA).

All pregnant women should be tested for HIV so that they can begin treatment if they’re HIV-positive. If a woman is treated for HIV early in her pregnancy, the risk of transmitting HIV to her baby can be very low. Testing pregnant women for HIV infection and treating those who are infected have led to a big decline in the number of children infected with HIV from their mothers.

The treatment is most effective for preventing HIV transmission to babies when started as early as possible during pregnancy. However, there are still great health benefits to beginning preventive treatment even during labor or shortly after the baby is born.

Learn more about how to protect yourself, and get information tailored to meet your needs from CDC’s HIV Risk Reduction Tool(BETA).

There are three broad types of tests available: antibody tests, combination or fourth-generation tests, and nucleic acid tests (NAT). HIV tests may be performed on blood, oral fluid, or urine.

  1. Most HIV tests, including most rapid tests and home tests, are antibody tests. Antibodies are produced by your immune system when you’re exposed to viruses like HIV or bacteria. HIV antibody tests look for these antibodies to HIV in your blood or oral fluid. In general, antibody tests that use blood can detect HIV slightly sooner after infection than tests done with oral fluid.It can take 3 to 12 weeks (21-84 days) for an HIV-positive person’s body to make enough antibodies for an antibody test to detect HIV infection. This is called the window period. Approximately 97% of people will develop detectable antibodies during this window period. If you get a negative HIV antibody test result during the window period, you should be re-tested 3 months after your possible exposure to HIV.

If you use any type of antibody test and have a positive result, you will need to take a follow-up test to confirm your results. If your first test is a rapid home test and it’s positive, you will be sent to a health care provider to get follow-up testing. If your first test is done in a testing lab and it’s positive, the lab will conduct the follow-up testing, usually on the same blood sample as the first test.

  1. A combination, or fourth-generation, testlooks for both HIV antibodies and antigens. Antigens are foreign substances that cause your immune system to activate. The antigen is part of the virus itself and is present during acute HIV infection (the phase of infection right after people are infected but before they develop antibodies to HIV). If you’re infected with HIV, an antigen called p24 is produced even before antibodies develop. Combination screening tests are now recommended for testing done in labs and are becoming more common in the United States. There is now a rapid combination test available.It can take 2 to 6 weeks (13 to 42 days) for a person’s body to make enough antigens and antibodies for a combination, or fourth-generation, test to detect HIV. This is called the window period. If you get a negative combination test result during the window period, you should be retested 3 months after your possible exposure.
  1. A nucleic acid test (NAT) looks for HIV in the blood. It looks for the virus and not the antibodies to the virus. The test can give either a positive/negative result or an actual amount of virus present in the blood (known as a viral load test). This test is very expensive and not routinely used for screening individuals unless they recently had a high-risk exposure or a possible exposure with early symptoms of HIV infection.It can take 7 to 28 days for a NAT to detect HIV. Nucleic acid testing is usually considered accurate during the early stages of infection. However, it is best to get an antibody or combination test at the same time to help the doctor interpret the negative NAT. This is because a small number of people naturally decrease the amount of virus in their blood over time, which can lead to an inaccurate negative NAT result. Taking pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) or post-exposure prophylaxis (PEP) may also reduce the accuracy of NAT if you have HIV.

Talk to your health care provider to see what type of HIV test is right for you.

After you get tested, it’s important for you to find out the result of your test so that you can talk to your health care provider about treatment options if you’re HIV-positive. If you’re HIV-negative, continue to take actions to prevent HIV, like using condoms the right way every time you have sex and taking medicines to prevent HIV if you’re at high risk.

Learn more about how to protect yourself, and get information tailored to meet your needs from CDC’s HIV Risk Reduction Tool(BETA).

No HIV test can detect HIV immediately after infection. If you think you’ve been exposed to HIV, talk to your health care provider as soon as possible.

The time between when a person gets HIV and when a test can accurately detect it is called the window period. The window period varies from person to person and also depends upon the type of HIV test.

Ask your health care provider about the window period for the test you’re taking. If you’re using a home test, you can get that information from the materials included in the test’s package. If you get an HIV test within 3 months after a potential HIV exposure and the result is negative, get tested again in 3 more months to be sure.

If you learned you were HIV-negative the last time you were tested, you can only be sure you’re still negative if you haven’t had a potential HIV exposure since your last test. If you’re sexually active, continue to take actions to prevent HIV, like using condoms the right way every time you have sex and taking medicines to prevent HIV if you’re at high risk. Learn the right way to use a male condom.

Learn more about how to protect yourself, and get information tailored to meet your needs from CDC’s HIV Risk Reduction Tool(BETA).

You can ask your health care provider for an HIV test. Many medical clinics, substance abuse programs, community health centers, and hospitals offer them too. You can also find a testing site near you by

You can also buy a home testing kit at a pharmacy or online.

Learn more about how to protect yourself, and get information tailored to meet your needs from CDC’s HIV Risk Reduction Tool(BETA).

If you take a test in a health care setting, when it’s time to take the test, a health care provider will take your sample (blood or oral fluid), and you may be able to wait for the results if it’s a rapid HIV test. If the test comes back negative, and you haven’t had an exposure for 3 months, you can be confident you’re not infected with HIV.

If your HIV test result is positive, you may need to get a follow-up test to be sure you have HIV.

Your health care provider or counselor may talk with you about your risk factors, answer questions about your general health, and discuss next steps with you, especially if your result is positive.

See Will other people know my test result?

Learn more about how to protect yourself, and get information tailored to meet your needs from CDC’s HIV Risk Reduction Tool(BETA).

A negative result doesn’t necessarily mean that you don’t have HIV. That’s because of the window period— the time between when a person gets HIV and when a test can accurately detect it. The window period varies from person to person and is also different depending upon the type of HIV test. (See How soon after an exposure to HIV can an HIV test detect if I am infected?)

Ask your health care provider about the window period for the test you’re taking. If you’re using a home test, you can get that information from the materials included in the test’s package. If you get an HIV test within 3 months after a potential HIV exposure and the result is negative, get tested again in 3 more months to be sure.

If you learned you were HIV-negative the last time you were tested, you can only be sure you’re still negative if you haven’t had a potential HIV exposure since your last test. If you’re sexually active, continue to take actions to prevent HIV, like using condoms the right way every time you have sex and taking medicines to prevent HIV if you’re at high risk. Learn the right way to use a male condom.

Learn more about how to protect yourself, and get information tailored to meet your needs from CDC’s HIV Risk Reduction Tool(BETA).

No. Your HIV test result reveals only your HIV status.

HIV is not necessarily transmitted every time you have sex. Therefore, taking an HIV test is not a way to find out if your partner is infected.

It’s important to be open with your partners and ask them to tell you their HIV status. But keep in mind that your partners may not know or may be wrong about their status, and some may not tell you if they have HIV even if they know they’re infected. Consider getting tested together so you can both know your HIV status and take steps to keep yourselves healthy.

Learn more about how to protect yourself, and get information tailored to meet your needs from CDC’s HIV Risk Reduction Tool(BETA).

A follow-up test will be conducted. If the follow-up test is also positive, it means you are HIV-positive.

If you had a rapid screening test, the testing site will arrange a follow-up test to make sure the screening test result was correct. If your blood was tested in a lab, the lab will conduct a follow-up test on the same sample.

It is important that you start medical care and begin HIV treatment as soon as you are diagnosed with HIV. Anti-retroviral therapy or ART (taking medicines to treat HIV infection) is recommended for all people with HIV, regardless of how long they’ve had the virus or how healthy they are. It slows the progression of HIV and helps protect your immune system. ART can keep you healthy for many years and greatly reduces your chance of transmitting HIV to sex partners if taken the right way, every day.

If you have health insurance, your insurer is required to cover some medicines used to treat HIV. If you don’t have health insurance, or you’re unable to afford your co-pay or co-insurance amount, you may be eligible for government programs that can help through Medicaid, Medicare, the Ryan White HIV/AIDS Program, and community health centers. Your health care provider or local public health department can tell you where to get HIV treatment.

To lower your risk of transmitting HIV,

Receiving a diagnosis of HIV can be a life-changing event. People can feel many emotions—sadness, hopelessness, and even anger. Allied health care providers and social service providers, often available at your health care provider’s office, will have the tools to help you work through the early stages of your diagnosis and begin to manage your HIV.

Talking to others who have HIV may also be helpful. Find a local HIV support group. Learn about how other people living with HIV have handled their diagnosis.

You can view stories and testimonials of how people are living well with HIV on the websites for Let’s Stop HIV Together and HIV Treatment Works. You can also find many other resources on HIV Treatment Works for people living with HIV.

Learn more about how to protect yourself, and get information tailored to meet your needs from CDC’s HIV Risk Reduction Tool(BETA).

No. Being HIV-positive does not mean you have AIDS. AIDS is the most advanced stage of HIV disease. HIV can lead to AIDS if not treated.

See Basic Information About HIV and AIDS for more information.

Learn more about how to protect yourself, and get information tailored to meet your needs from CDC’s HIV Risk Reduction Tool(BETA).

If you take an anonymous test, no one but you will know the result. If you take a confidential test, your test result will be part of your medical record, but it is still protected by state and federal privacy laws.

With confidential testing, if you test positive for HIV, the test result and your name will be reported to the state or local health department to help public health officials get better estimates of the rates of HIV in the state. The state health department will then remove all personal information about you (name, address, etc.) and share the remaining non-identifying information with CDC. CDC does not share this information with anyone else, including insurance companies.

For more information, see AIDS.gov’s questions about civil rights, legal disclosure, insurance, and the workplace.

Learn more about how to protect yourself, and get information tailored to meet your needs from CDC’s HIV Risk Reduction Tool(BETA).

It’s important to share your status with your sex partners. Whether you disclose your status to others is your decision.

Partners
It’s important to disclose your HIV status to your sex partners even if you’re uncomfortable doing it. Communicating with each other about your HIV status means you can take steps to keep both of you healthy. The more practice you have disclosing your HIV status, the easier it will become.

Many resources can help you learn ways to disclose your status to your partners. For tips on how to start the conversation with your partners, check out CDC’s Start Talking campaign.

If you’re nervous about disclosing your test result, or you have been threatened or injured by your partner, you can ask your doctor or the local health department to tell them that they might have been exposed to HIV. This is called partner notification services. Health departments do not reveal your name to your partners. They will only tell your partners that they have been exposed to HIV and should get tested.

Many states have laws that require you to tell your sexual partners if you’re HIV-positive before you have sex (anal, vaginal, or oral) or tell your drug-using partners before you share drugs or needles to inject drugs. In some states, you can be charged with a crime if you don’t tell your partner your HIV status, even if your partner doesn’t become infected.

Family and friends
In most cases, your family and friends will not know your test results or HIV status unless you tell them yourself. While telling your family that you have HIV may seem hard, you should know that disclosure actually has many benefits—studies have shown that people who disclose their HIV status respond better to treatment than those who don’t.

If you are under 18, however, some states allow your health care provider to tell your parent(s) that you received services for HIV if they think doing so is in your best interest. For more information, see the Guttmacher Institute’s State Policies in Brief: Minors’ Access to STI Services.

Employers
In most cases, your employer will not know your HIV status unless you tell them. But your employer does have a right to ask if you have any health conditions that would affect your ability to do your job or pose a serious risk to others. (An example might be a health care professional, like a surgeon, who does procedures where there is a risk of blood or other body fluids being exchanged.)

If you have health insurance through your employer, the insurance company cannot legally tell your employer that you have HIV. But it is possible that your employer could find out if the insurance company provides detailed information to your employer about the benefits it pays or the costs of insurance.

All people with HIV are covered under the Americans with Disabilities Act. This means that your employer cannot discriminate against you because of your HIV status as long as you can do your job. To learn more, see the Department of Justice’s website.

It may help you to hear stories about how others are living with HIV and how they’ve shared their status with partners, family, and friends. Visit our websites for Let’s Stop HIV Together and HIV Treatment Works.

Learn more about how to protect yourself, and get information tailored to meet your needs from CDC’s HIV Risk Reduction Tool(BETA).

HIV screening is covered by health insurance without a co-pay, as required by the Affordable Care Act. If you do not have medical insurance, some testing sites may offer free tests. See Where can I get tested? for more information.

Learn more about how to protect yourself, and get information tailored to meet your needs from CDC’s HIV Risk Reduction Tool(BETA).

If you have health insurance, your insurer is required to cover some medicines used to treat HIV. If you don’t have health insurance, or you’re unable to afford your co-pay or co-insurance amount, you may be eligible for government programs that can help through Medicaid, Medicare, the Ryan White HIV/AIDS Program, and community health centers. Your health care provider or local public health department can tell you where to get HIV treatment.

See The Affordable Care Act and HIV/AIDS for more information.

Learn more about how to protect yourself, and get information tailored to meet your needs from CDC’s HIV Risk Reduction Tool(BETA).

HIV in the United States: At a Glance

  • More than 1.2 million people in the United States are living with HIV infection, and almost 1 in 8 (12.8%) are unaware of their infection.
  • Gay, bisexual, and other men who have sex with men (MSMa), particularly young black/African American MSM, are most seriously affected by HIV.
  • By race, blacks/African Americans face the most severe burden of HIV.

CDC estimates that 1,218,400 persons aged 13 years and older are living with HIV infection, including 156,300 (12.8%) who are unaware of their infection. Over the past decade, the number of people living with HIV has increased, while the annual number of new HIV infections has remained relatively stable. Still, the pace of new infections continues at far too high a level—particularly among certain groups.

HIV Incidence (new infections): The estimated incidence of HIV has remained stable overall in recent years, at about 50,000 new HIV infections per year. Within the overall estimates, however, some groups are affected more than others. MSM continue to bear the greatest burden of HIV infection, and among races/ethnicities, African Americans continue to be disproportionately affected.

HIV Diagnoses (new diagnoses, regardless of when infection occurred or stage of disease at diagnosis): In 2013, an estimated 47,352 people were diagnosed with HIV infection in the United States. In that same year, an estimated 26,688 people were diagnosed with AIDS. Overall, an estimated 1,194,039 people in the United States have been diagnosed with AIDS.

Deaths: An estimated 13,712 people with an AIDS diagnosis died in 2012, and approximately 658,507 people in the United States with an AIDS diagnosis have died overall. The deaths of persons with an AIDS diagnosis can be due to any cause—that is, the death may or may not be related to AIDS.

Gay, bisexual, and other men who have sex with men (MSM) of all races and ethnicities remain the population most profoundly affected by HIV.

In 2010, the estimated number of new HIV infections among MSM was 29,800, a significant 12% increase from the 26,700 new infections among MSM in 2008.

Although MSM represent about 4% of the male population in the United States, in 2010, MSM accounted for 78% of new HIV infections among males and 63% of all new infections. MSM accounted for 54% of all people living with HIV infection in 2011, the most recent year these data are available.

In 2010, white MSM continued to account for the largest number of new HIV infections (11,200), by transmission category, followed closely by black MSM (10,600).

The estimated number of new HIV infections was greatest among MSM in the youngest age group. In 2010, the greatest number of new HIV infections (4,800) among MSM occurred in young black/African American MSM aged 13–24. Young black MSM accounted for 45% of new HIV infections among black MSM and 55% of new HIV infections among young MSM overall.

Since the epidemic began, an estimated 311,087 MSM with an AIDS diagnosis have died, including an estimated 5,380 in 2012.

Figure 1: Estimated New HIV Infections in the United States, 2010, for the Most Affected Subpopulations
hiv-infections-graph-700x302

Source: CDC. Estimated HIV incidence among adults and adolescents in the United States, 2007–2010. HIV
Surveillance Supplemental Report 2012;17(4). Subpopulations representing 2% or less are not reflected in this
chart. Abbreviations: MSM, men who have sex with men; IDU, injection drug user.

*Subpopulations representing 2% or less are not reflected in this chart. Abbreviations: MSM, men who have sex with men; IDU, injection drug user.

Heterosexuals and injection drug users also continue to be affected by HIV.

Since the epidemic began, almost 92,613 persons with AIDS that were infected through heterosexual sex, have died, including an estimated 4,550 in 2012.

New HIV infections among women are primarily attributed to heterosexual contact (84% in 2010) or injection drug use (16% in 2010). Women accounted for 20% of estimated new HIV infections in 2010 and 23% of those living with HIV infection in 2011. The 9,500 new infections among women in 2010 reflect a significant 21% decrease from the 12,000 new infections that occurred among this group in 2008.

Injection drug users represented 8% of new HIV infections in 2010 and 15% of those living with HIV in 2011.

Since the epidemic began, nearly 186,728 people with (AIDS) who inject drugs have died, including an estimated 3,514 in 2012.

Blacks/African Americans continue to experience the most severe burden of HIV, compared with other races and ethnicities.

Blacks represent approximately 12% of the U.S. population, but accounted for an estimated 44% of new HIV infections in 2010. They also accounted for 41% of people living with HIV infection in 2011.

Since the epidemic began, an estimated 270,726 blacks with AIDS have died, including an estimated 6,540 in 2012.

Hispanics/Latinos are also disproportionately affected by HIV.

Hispanics/Latinos represented 16% of the population but accounted for 21% of new HIV infections in 2010. Hispanics/Latinos accounted for 20% of people living with HIV infection in 2011.

Disparities persist in the estimated rate of new HIV infections in Hispanics/Latinos. In 2010, the rate of new HIV infections for Latino males was 2.9 times that for white males, and the rate of new infections for Latinas was 4.2 times that for white females.

Since the epidemic began, more than 100,888 Hispanics/Latinos with an AIDS diagnosis have died, including 2,155 in 2012.

For assessing disease risk, the term MSM is often used instead of gay, homosexual, or bisexual because it refers to a risk behavior, rather than an identity that may or may not be tied to a behavior. National Center for HIV/AIDS, Viral Hepatitis, STD, and TB Prevention Division of HIV/AIDS Prevention.

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15 Years of the AIDS Response 2000 – 2015

How AIDS Changed Everything… A lookback at the key moments in the AIDS response.