HIV is a virus spread through certain body fluids that attacks the body’s immune system, specifically the CD4 or T cells. Over time, the virus can destroy so many of these cells that the body can’t fight off infections and disease, which can lead to “opportunistic” infections such as pneumonia, lung infections, cervical cancer, encephalopathy. The infections can become severe and cause significant health problems or death. Medications, if taken daily, can significantly reduce the development of severe health problems but the medications must be taken each day. Taking medications every day is important.
There are other infections that may occur as a result of HIV. A more detailed list and explanation of opportunistic infections is available here: https://www.cdc.gov/hiv/basics/livingwithhiv/opportunisticinfections.html
HIV advances in three stages (Acute, Clinical Latency and AIDS) without treatment and can overwhelm the immune system. Taking medication every day can prevent HIV from progressing to AIDS. Medication therapy called ART (Antiretroviral Therapy) helps control the virus so you can live a longer, healthier life. Taking medication also reduces the risk of transmitting HIV to others.
People can become infected with HIV in different ways but mainly through sexual activity and sharing needles. Less frequently, HIV is spread from mother to unborn child or being stuck with a needle from an infected person. If you believe you’ve been exposed to HIV, immediately seek assistance. It is the best way to prevent or lessen your chances of getting HIV/AIDS. Call your family doctor, visit a hospital or call one of the agencies listed on this website and ask about PrEP.
PrEP and PEP:
- Pre Exposure Prophylaxis (PrEP) is a medication available to people who believe they may be at risk of contracting HIV. PrEP is a pill used as prevention for not contraction HIV that needs to be consistently taken daily. It is also important to practice correct, consistent condom use in preventing infections.
- Post-exposure prophylaxis (PEP) is a medication available to people who believe they may have recently been exposed to HIV. PEP should be immediately taken within 72 hours of a person’s exposure. This can be provided by a healthcare provider.
POPULATIONS WHO ARE AT HIGH-RISK FOR CONTRACTING HIV:
- People who engage in intravenous drug use and equipment sharing (needles, other drug works)
- People who engage in unprotected sexual behavior such as anal, vaginal, or oral sex. This is not limited to sexual orientation, sexual identity, or gender identity.
- People who have a high number of sexual partners and low-to-no condom usage.
- People who trade money, drugs, or other needs for sex, or who engage in sex work activities.
- People who are unsheltered or experiencing homelessness.
SYMPTOMS OF HIV:
According to HIV.gov:
“About 40% to 90% of people have flu-like symptoms within 2-4 weeks after HIV infection. Other people do not feel sick at all during this stage, which is also known as acute HIV infection. Early infection is defined as HIV infection in the past six months (recent) and includes acute (very recent) infections. Flu-like symptoms can include:
- Night sweats
- Muscle aches
- Sore throat
- Swollen lymph nodes
- Mouth ulcers
These symptoms can last anywhere from a few days to several weeks. During this time, HIV infection may not show up on some types of HIV tests, but people who have it are highly infectious and can spread the infection to others.”
Contact a local agency for FREE testing to see if you believe you contracted the virus causing HIV.
HOW IS HIV TRANSMITTED?
The HIV virus is transmitted through certain activities between people, most commonly through sexual contact or sharing needles. (There was a recent outbreak in rural Indiana in 2015 when people were sharing needles to inject opioids). These activities transfer certain body fluids from one person to another. The virus is transferred with those body fluids.
- HIV can be transferred through unprotected sexual contact with someone who has the virus, typically sexual activities involving the penis, vagina, anus and mouth.
- HIV is transmitted through four main bodily fluids: semen, vaginal fluid, blood, and breast milk.
- HIV is transmitted by sharing needles and other intravenous drug works.
- HIV can be transmitted from a mother to her fetus during labor through vaginal birth, and also through breast milk.
- HIV is not transmitted by casual contact such as hugging, shaking hands, sharing toilets or kissing with a closed mouth.
- HIV is not transmitted through these bodily fluids of saliva, tears, sweat,
- HIV is not transmitted through mosquitoes, ticks, or other blood-sucking insects.
It’s best to get tested if you think you may have been exposed to the virus.