What is HIV?
HIV is a virus that attacks the cells in your body’s immune system. Because your immune system normally defends your body against illness, HIV makes it difficult for your body to fight off diseases and infections. HIV can be passed on during unprotected vaginal, oral, and anal sex, through sharing needles or syringes, and from an HIV-positive mother to her child during pregnancy, birth, or breastfeeding. People who have HIV often show no symptoms, which is why HIV-positive people may spread the infection without knowing it.
What is AIDS?
AIDS is an advanced stage of HIV. There are two ways doctors decide if an HIV positive person has AIDS:
- Based on infections, when an HIV-positive person gets one or more infections that do not usually affect someone who is healthy.
- Based on blood tests, the number of healthy immune cells in an HIV-positive person drops to a certain low point or when the amount of HIV in their blood reaches a certain high point.
That’s why it’s so important to get tested, learn your status, and get treated if you learn you are HIV positive. Treatments for HIV have improved significantly, and many people who receive treatment early live long healthy lives.
If you are HIV positive, your healthcare provider can teach you how to care for yourself and will provide you with information on different treatment options.
Do I have HIV?
The only way to know for sure if you have HIV is to get tested. Getting tested is easy. To test you for HIV your healthcare provider will collect either a blood sample or a swab from your mouth. These tests should not hurt, but if you experience any discomfort tell your provider.
How often should I get tested?
Young people who are sexually active should get tested at least once a year. It’s also smart to get tested before you start a new sexual relationship, or if someone you’ve had sex with tells you that they are HIV positive. It’s easy. Just ask your healthcare provider.
How quickly someone with HIV advances to AIDS depends on many different factors. One important factor is how quickly a person gets tested and gets into care.
Talk with your healthcare provider or local tribal health facility about access to HIV/AIDs testing near you.