What is HIV?

HIV, short for human immunodeficiency virus, is a sexually transmitted disease (STD). This virus attacks a person’s immune system, which fights infections. After some time, the virus damages the immune system enough to make it very difficult to fight illnesses.

A person living with HIV can develop acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS), often after many years. Not everyone with HIV will get AIDS.

How do you get HIV?

HIV is a sexually transmitted infection. The most common way for someone to get it is through a sexual activity where you exchange bodily fluids. This activity includes vaginal, oral and anal sex. However, you can contract the virus in other ways, including:

  • Sharing needles with an infected person to take drugs.
  • Passing between a mother and her unborn child.
  • Rarely, from a blood transfusion (all blood donations get tested for HIV).

A lot of misinformation exists about how you can get HIV. You cannot contract HIV from:

  • Air or water.
  • Drinking fountains.
  • Silverware, dishes or drinking glasses.
  • Toilets.
  • Touch, such as shaking hands, hugging or social, closed-mouth kissing.
  • Pets or insects, such as mosquitoes and ticks.

Who gets HIV?

Anyone can get HIV. You can get this indiscriminate virus if you participate in risky behaviors, such as unprotected sex or sharing needles for drug use.

The most common way people get HIV is through male-to-male sexual contact. But heterosexual sex causes about one in four HIV infections.

How do I find out if I have HIV?

The only way you can find out for sure if you have HIV is through a test.

Some people have flu-like symptoms two to four weeks after infection with HIV. This phase is called acute HIV infection.

Is there a cure for HIV?

Researchers have not found a cure. Once you have HIV, you have it for life. But you can successfully manage HIV with proper treatment from a healthcare professional.

Can HIV be prevented?

The only sure way to prevent HIV is to abstain from sex (not have sex) and never share needles. If you’re sexually active, using condoms can prevent transmission of HIV and other STDs.

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