HIV/AIDS

WHAT IS HIV?

Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) is the virus that causes AIDS.  The HIV infects the cells that make up your immune system (T-cells), and uses the T-cell’s nutrients and energy to reproduce at rapid rates. This weakens the immune system and for most people, HIV will develop into AIDS after years without medical attention.

Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome

  • Acquired – you get infected with it.
  • Immune Deficiency – a weakened immune system or the lack of ability to fight illnesses.
  • Syndrome – a group of symptoms that when combined indicate a disease.

AIDS is a serious disorder that puts a person at risk for getting other diseases and infections.  Whether or not a person has HIV or has progressed to AIDS, they can transmit HIV to others.

To learn more about  how HIV/AIDS spreads, does not spread, how to get tested and more, check out the information below.

HOW IS HIV SPREAD?

HIV can spread from one person to another through HIV-infected blood, having sexual contact with an HIV-infected person, and from an infected mother to her baby.
Exposure to HIV- infected blood:  Anytime a person’s blood is exposed to HIV-infected blood, it is possible for HIV to be transmitted. This includes even a tiny amount of blood that is invisible to the naked eye.  It is important never to share anything such as needles, injecting equipment, or personal hygiene items such as a razor that might put you at risk for the virus entering your bloodstream.

Exposure through sexual contact:  HIV can be found in semen, pre-ejaculatory fluid, and vaginal fluids, and can spread from one person to another through oral, vaginal or anal sexual contact.

Anal sex poses the highest risk for both men and women, especially to the person who is being penetrated, as the lining of the anus and rectum is thin and filled with small blood vessels that can easily be damaged during intercourse.

Practicing safer sex by using latex or polyurethane condoms, lube, and barriers (latex square or plastic wrap placed over the genital area during oral sex) significantly reduces the chances of getting HIV and other STDs.  Oral sex is much less risky than anal or vaginal sex for passing or catching HIV, but it is possible.

Exposure from a mother to her baby:  Every woman who is pregnant, or is planning to become pregnant, should have an HIV test. This has become a standard part of pre-natal care.  If a pregnant woman is found to be HIV-positive, medication is given that greatly reduces the chance of the virus being passed on to the baby.  Mothers who are HIV positive will also be advised to avoid breastfeeding since HIV can be passed to the baby through breast milk.

HOW HIV IS NOT SPREAD…

Compared to many viruses, HIV does not survive well outside the body and this fact makes the possibility of transmission through casual contact very unlikely.

The saying for HIV goes “As it dries, it dies”.  Therefore, everyday activities such as hugging, holding hands, sharing a drink, using the same restroom facilities, and using the same utensils, poses no risk for HIV transmission.

HIV cannot be transmitted through tears, saliva, urine, vomit, earwax, sweat or feces, unless blood is visibly present.  Nor is, HIV passed by kissing. Mosquitoes, flies, and other insects cannot carry or spread HIV.

WHAT ARE THE SYMPTOMS OF HIV?

Unfortunately, as with many STDs, there are often few, if any, symptoms that a person has become or is already infected with HIV.  In some cases a person may develop flu-like symptoms a few weeks after exposure to HIV but people might think they are just ‘under the weather’.

Because there is no way you can tell by looking at someone that they are HIV-positive,  it is important to do as much as possible to prevent getting the virus and to get tested if you think that you may have been exposed.


CAN YOU BE TESTED FOR HIV?

Yes. You may actually have more options than with other types of STD testing with regard to how the test is done.  Most places offer a simple blood test, while other places offer an oral test. Which test you get depends on the place that you go, your risk history and how much you can afford to spend.
=Testing options include:=

  • Rapid Testing – gives a preliminary result in 20 minutes.
  • Confidential testing – means that while they will have your personal information, it will not be released to anyone without your signed consent.
  • Anonymous testing – At an anonymous testing site, you do not need to provide a real name and you will most likely be provided a code of some sort to get your results. There aren’t many sites in Spokane that offer anonymous testing, so if you need help finding a place, contact the Spokane Regional Health District at (509) 324-1542 or (509) 324-1494 for assistance.

Some important information to keep in mind when thinking about or planning to get tested:

  • In Washington State you can be tested for HIV starting at age 14 without your parents’ knowledge or consent;
  • It can take up to three months for HIV to show up after an exposure. Therefore it is recommended you wait three months after you were possibly exposed to HIV to get tested.

CAN YOU TREAT HIV?

Effective medications are available which help to control the virus.  If you find out that you are HIV positive, it is important to get medical help as soon as possible to help keep you as healthy as possible and so that you learn how to avoid spreading the virus to others. There is no cure for HIV.

WHAT HAPPENS IF YOU DON’T GIVE TREATMENT?

If you’re HIV positive, it is important for you to talk to a healthcare provider to decide if (and what) treatment is best for you and to monitor your health.  Receiving appropriate medical attention from a doctor or medical provider who is familiar with HIV and talking to them about concerns you may have about treatment is best.

WHAT SHOULD I DO IF I FIND OUT I HAVE HIV?

Life doesn’t have to completely change just because you’re HIV positive. However, there are a few things you’ll need to be careful about:

  • Keep yourself as physically healthy as possible and keep exercising and doing the things you enjoy unless your medical provider tells you not to;
  • Don’t share anything that can potentially spread your blood. This includes needles (for injecting drugs and tattoos), drug preparation tools, toothbrushes, and razors;
  • Anyone you’re sexually active with must be informed about your HIV status and diagnosis. It is against the law to have any sexual activity without having told a potential or current sex partner of your HIV diagnosis before the sexual activity.
  • Even when a partner consents to sexual activity after learning you’re HIV positive, you should ALWAYS use protection, such as latex or polyurethane condoms, water or silicone-based lube, and barriers which will help protect you and your partner, as there are lots of other infections that you could still be exposed to without the use of these protective measures.

IS HIV PREVENTABLE?

Yes. There are several things you can do to greatly reduce the risk of getting HIV. Do not use anything that might put you at risk of getting another person’s blood into your bloodstream- That means never share needles, syringes or any other equipment used to prepare and/or use injected drugs and only use your own toothbrush and razor;

  • Every time you’re sexually active (including oral, vaginal or anal sex), use protection- latex or polyurethane condoms, water or silicone based lube and barriers. When used correctly these things dramatically reduce the risk of getting HIV and other STDs.
    • If you’re allergic to latex, try using a polyurethane condom.  Never use oil-based lubricants like hand lotion, baby oil or Vaseline with latex condoms since these products can cause the condoms to break.  REMINDER: Just because you are on birth control does NOT mean you are protected from HIV or other STDs.
  • Another way to reduce risk is to find ways to be intimate that do not include oral, anal or vaginal sex.


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