HIV 1 & 2

What is HIV?

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.

 

Identifying the symptoms

A number of symptoms associated with the flu may be the first to arise as early signs of HIV. These include:

  • headache
  • fever
  • tiredness
  • swollen lymph nodes (generally in the neck)
  • rash

Other possible symptoms are muscle and joint pain, sore throat, and ulcers in the mouth or on the genitals. Some people also experience night sweats and diarrhea.

Invisible.  Some people have no symptoms for years until the disease progresses to AIDS. If you have had unprotected sex, get yourself tested. For both men and women flu like symptoms, weight loss and mouth ulcers are also signs to look for.

 

What Should I do if I test positive?

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

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.

To lower your risk of transmitting HIV,

  • Take medicines to treat HIV (antiretroviral therapy or ART) the right way every day.
  • Use condoms the right way every time you have sex. 
  • If your partner is HIV-negative, encourage them to talk to their health care provider to see if taking daily medicine to prevent HIV (called pre-exposure prophylaxis, or PrEP) is right for them.
  • If you think your partner might have been recently exposed to HIV—for example, if the condom breaks during sex and you aren’t virally suppressed—they should talk to a health care provider right away (within 3 days) about taking medicines (called post-exposure prophylaxis, or PEP) to prevent getting HIV.
  • Get tested and treated for STDs and encourage your partner to do the same.

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.

 

What should I do if I test negative?

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. 

  • Most HIV 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. The soonest an antibody test will detect infection is 3 weeks. Most (approximately 97%), but not all, people will develop detectable antibodies within 3 to 12 weeks (21 to 84 days) of infection.
  • A combination, or fourth-generation, test looks 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).

Most, but not all people, will make enough antigens and antibodies for fourth-generation or combination tests to accurately detect infection 2 to 6 weeks (13 to 42 days) after infection.  

Ask your health care provider about the window period for the test you’re taking. 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. 

 

For more information

For more information about HIV visit the CDC website:

To speak with a trained STD counsellor, contact the CDC National Hotline at:

Phone: 1 800-CDC-INFO (800-232-4636) (24 hours)

Email: cdcinfo@cdc.gov