HIV basics


Since symptoms vary greatly based on a number of factors, the only sure way to tell if you've contracted HIV is to get tested.

Some individuals may exhibit flu-like symptoms during the early stage of HIV (typically within 2-4 weeks of infection); however, others may not feel sick at all. During this time, HIV infection may not show up on an HIV test, but people who have it are highly infectious and can spread the infection to others.

If you think you have contracted HIV, it is important to get tested immediately. Most HIV tests detect antibodies your body creates as a response to HIV, but do not detect HIV itself. Since it takes a few weeks for the body to produce these antibodies, testing for HIV too early may not produce accurate results.

Some modern HIV tests can detect HIV itself during the early stage of infection, so be sure to let the testing site know if you think you may have been recently exposed to HIV.


Get Tested

Regularly and often are the two words you should think of when it comes to getting tested. Knowing your status is the most important thing you can do in fighting the spread of HIV. Additionally, get tested (and treated if necessary) for STIs (sexually transmitted infections), which can increase your chances of contracting HIV.

Use Condoms

A latex barrier is one of the most reliable safeguards against HIV when engaging in vaginal, anal, or oral sex. Knowing how to use one properly is crucial.

Have Less Risky Sexual Experiences

Avoid alcohol or drugs prior to engaging in sex. Being intoxicated during intercourse lowers your inhibitions and decreases the likelihood that you'll properly use a latex barrier. Also, limiting your number of sexual partners will decrease your likelihood of engaging with a partner that might be HIV positive or carrying other STIs.

Avoid IV Drug Use

Another common method of contracting HIV is injecting drugs. If you do, use only sterile needles and water and never share your drug injection equipment with others.

Talk to a Healthcare Provider

While there's no cure for HIV/AIDS, there is medication that can limit your risk of contracting it. Pre-exposure prophylaxis, or PreP, is a prevention medication for people who do not have HIV, but are at high risk for contracting it. Learn more about PreP.

HIV (human immunodeficiency virus) weakens the body's immune system by attacking CD4 cells (T cells), the cells responsible for helping the immune system fight off infections.


If left untreated, HIV reduces the number of T cells in the body, leaving it vulnerable to infections or infection-related cancers. If too many T cells are destroyed, the body cannot fight off these opportunistic infections or cancers, which take advantage of an extremely weak immune system.

Once the body can no longer fight off infection, it signals that the person has AIDS, the final stage of HIV infection.

what IS AIDS?

AIDS (acquired immunodeficiency syndrome) is the final stage of HIV infection that occurs when the immune system is so badly weakened that the body becomes vulnerable to opportunistic infections.

When the body's CD4 cell count falls below 200 cells per cubic millimeter of blood (200 cells/mm3), the person is considered to have progressed to AIDS. A person can also be diagnosed with AIDS if he or she develops one or more opportunistic infections, regardless of CD4 count.

People with AIDS need medical treatment to prevent death.

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