What is HIV?
HIV is a virus that attacks the body’s immune system by attaching itself to important white blood cells known as T-helper cells (also called CD4 cells). T-helper cells are among the most important cells in our immune system. They activate other types of immune cells that neutralize pathogens or kill infected cells. If left untreated, HIV will weaken the body’s ability to fight off infections.
Over time, HIV symptoms have the potential to progress into a chronic, potentially life-threatening condition known as acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS), an advanced stage of HIV. In this late, most severe stage of HIV, individuals are extremely vulnerable to other infections and cancers.
How do you get HIV?
HIV is transmitted when certain bodily fluids come into contact with a mucous membrane (found inside the rectum, vagina, penis, and mouth) or damaged tissue or are directly injected into the bloodstream.
Bodily fluids that transmit HIV include:
- Semen (cum)
- Pre-seminal fluid (pre-cum)
- Rectal fluid
- Vaginal fluid
- Breast milk
Any person who is sexually active is at risk for HIV.
HIV is usually spread through:
- Anal sex. The risk of HIV transmission through anal sex is very high. Being the receptive partner (bottom) is higher-risk than being the insertive partner (top). This is because the lining of the rectum is very thin, making it easier for HIV to enter the body. HIV can also enter the body through the urethra, the foreskin, or small cuts or abrasions on the penis. When used correctly, condoms are highly effective at preventing HIV.
- Vaginal sex. Although there is less risk of HIV transmission through vaginal sex, both partners are at risk. HIV can enter the body through the lining of the vagina and cervix as well as through the urethra, the foreskin, or small cuts or abrasions on the penis. Once again, when used correctly, condoms are highly effective at preventing HIV.
- Sharing needles, syringes, and other injection supplies. The risk of getting or transmitting HIV is very high for people who share injection equipment with one another.
Not knowing your sex partner’s status puts you at a much higher risk for contracting any STD. Having multiple sex partners increases the risk even more. Being sexually active while combating another sexually transmitted disease increases your risk for contracting HIV.
HIV does not survive long outside the human body and it cannot reproduce outside a human host.
Ways HIV is NOT transmitted:
- Shaking hands
- Sharing dishes
- Through the air
- Sharing toilets
- Closed-mouth kissing
- Mosquitoes, ticks, and other insects
Know your status by getting tested as soon as possible. H.O.P.E. provides low cost and free HIV testing in Tulsa and surrounding areas. To schedule a test, send us a Live Chat message or call H.O.P.E.’s hotline at 918-749-8378 (for Spanish, call 918-749-8389).
What are HIV symptoms?
While some people may not feel sick, about two-thirds of people will experience flu-like symptoms within 2 to 4 weeks following HIV infection. These symptoms sometimes include:
- Night sweats
- Muscle aches
- Sore throat
- Swollen lymph nodes
- Mouth ulcers
What is AIDS?
AIDS is the most severe phase of HIV infection. In this phase, the immune system is badly damaged, leaving the body unable to fight off germs. When this happens, people develop opportunistic infections – infections by organisms that don’t usually cause disease.
What are AIDS symptoms?
- Rapid weight loss
- Recurring fever or profuse night sweats
- Extreme and unexplained tiredness
- Prolonged swelling of the lymph glands in the armpits, groin, or neck
- Diarrhea that lasts for more than a week
- Sores of the mouth, anus, or genitals
- Red, brown, pink, or purplish blotches on or under the skin or inside the mouth, nose, or eyelids
- Memory loss, depression, and other neurological disorders
How do I get tested?
The CDC recommends everyone between the ages of 13 and 64 get tested for HIV at least once. Those who are at higher risk should be tested more often. Yearly testing is recommended if you can answer ‘yes’ to any of the following questions:
- Are you a man who has had sex with another man?
- Have you had sex with someone who has HIV?
- Have you had sex with more than one person since your last HIV test?
- Have you injected drugs and shared injection equipment like syringes or cookers, for example?
- Have you exchanged sex for drugs or money?
- Have you had a sexually transmitted infection?
- Have you had hepatitis or TB?
- Have you had sex with someone who could answer ‘yes’ to any of the above questions or someone whose sexual history you don’t know?
HIV tests are typically performed on blood or oral fluid. There are three types of tests available: antibody tests, antigen/antibody tests, and nucleic acid tests (NAT).
Most point-of-care tests are antibody tests. Antibodies are proteins produced by our bodies to protect ourselves once we’ve come in contact with specific invaders, in this case, the HIV virus. HIV antibody tests look for the presence of HIV antibodies in blood or oral fluid. Blood is either collected from a vein or a finger prick, while oral fluid is collected using an oral swab. Tests that use blood from a vein typically detect HIV sooner after infection than tests done with blood from a finger stick or oral fluid. It typically takes between 3 and 12 weeks after infection to produce enough antibodies for the test to detect.
For more information on the three types of HIV tests, visit the CDC website.
At H.O.P.E., we offer low-cost and free HIV testing in Tulsa and surrounding areas. Testing at the clinic is done by appointment only, but booking an appointment is easy! To make an appointment, send us a Live Chat message or call H.O.P.E.’s hotline at 918-749-8378 (for Spanish, call 918-749-8389).
I tested HIV positive, what now?
Testing positive for HIV means you have HIV. While the human body can get rid of some viruses on its own, it cannot get rid of HIV completely. However, with proper medical care, HIV can be managed, allowing those living with HIV to live long, healthy, active lives. If you have a primary care physician, they may be able to treat you for HIV in their clinic. If not, they can refer you to a healthcare provider who specializes in treating people living with HIV.
Once in treatment, your physician will prescribe a medication called antiretroviral therapy (ART) that reduces the amount of HIV in your body. HIV is typically controlled by ART within 6 months. Treatment not only protects you, but it protects others. People with an undetectable viral load have effectively no risk of transmitting HIV to their partners through sex. It is important to remember that ART does not prevent other STIs.
If left untreated, HIV will damage the immune system, increasing the risk for developing AIDS. If you need help finding an HIV healthcare provider, we can help.