What is HIV and AIDS?
HIV -the Human Immunodeficiency Virus - infects people and weakens their immune systems, making them very ill and unable to fight off other infections. AIDS - Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome - develops 2 to 10 years after infection with HIV, as the final stage of the disease. Due to a severely weakened immune system, a person with AIDS eventually dies from infections or diseases associated with HIV called opportunistic infections (link to page about opportunistic infections). Although preventable through safe practices, HIV and AIDS is not curable, nor preventable by vaccine.
How do you become infected with HIV?
You can become infected with HIV if the blood, semen, or vaginal fluid of someone who has HIV enters your body. The main things that people do that put them at risk of getting HIV are:
- Having sex with a person who has HIV without using a condom correctly every time you have vaginal, anal or oral sex.
- Using needles for intravenous drug use that are contaminated with HIV.
- Body piercing or tattooing or being cut with needles, razors or other sharp objects that have not been sterilized and are contaminated with HIV. In addition, children can be infected in the womb, during childbirth, or during breastfeeding if their mothers have HIV.
Is there any 100% effective way to protect myself from HIV and AIDS?
Yes. You can avoid HIV infection if you:
- Abstain from sexual intercourse entirely, or you and your partner have sex only with each other and are certain that neither of you is infected with HIV. The only way to be sure that you and your partner are free of HIV is to get tested for HIV together and to see the results together. AND
- Do not share needles for intravenous drug use. AND Do not have body piercing or tattooing or get cut with needles, razors or sharp objects that others may have used and have not been sterilized since.
Can I become infected with HIV if I have oral or anal sex, but not vaginal sex?
- Yes. HIV can enter one’s body through small tears in the tissue. Small cuts in one’s mouth (canker sores, cuts from flossing), or tears in the rectal lining which occur frequently during anal sex, expose the body to infection with HIV. The only way to greatly reduce your risk of transmission is to practice safe sex by using a condom correctly every time you have vaginal, anal or oral sex, or to abstain from sexual activity.
Can I get HIV by having sex with an infected person even though that person did not contract HIV through sex?
- Yes. Once someone is infected with HIV, they can transmit the virus to someone else through any of the means of infection listed above (unsafe vaginal, anal or oral sex, sharing needles or non-sterile tattoos and body piercing), regardless of how they were infected.
Can I get HIV through casual contact with infected people?
- No. It is not possible to be infected by going to the same university, using the same toilet, drinking from the same glass, or doing anything that does not involve blood, semen or vaginal fluids from an infected person entering your body. Kissing an infected person alone does not transmit HIV, as the viral load in saliva is far too low. However, any small cuts in the mouth, as can be caused from flossing, a canker sore, bleeding gums or a coffee burn can enable HIV to be transmitted.
Can I get HIV from the bite of a mosquito or any other type of insects?
- No. Insects are incapable of transmitting the virus.
Can you tell by looking at someone if they have HIV?
- No. Often, a person with HIV looks no different from other people. People living with HIV can develop health problems, but so can others who do not have HIV.
Is there a vaccine that can protect me from HIV?
- No. Research is underway, but there is no vaccine against HIV. The closest available to a vaccine is the usage of anti-retroviral therapy to prevent the transmission of the virus from an already infected pregnant mother to her child or when the therapy is administered after an unsafe sexual encounter to reduce the risk of
transmission. Inquire at Student Health about these options.
If I have been treated for other sexually transmitted infections (STIs), am I immune to HIV?
- No. Having an STI increases your chances of getting HIV from your sex partner and of transmitting it to other partners. If you have been cured of an STI, you return to the same level of risk you would have otherwise.
If I have HIV and have sex with somebody who is not infected, will that help cure me?
- No, it will have no effect on your disease status, but you are likely to infect them with the virus as well.
Is there any cure for HIV and AIDS?
- No. Once you are infected, HIV will be in your body for the rest of your life. However, anti-retroviral therapy ARV or ART (antiretroviral therapy) can help reduce the quantity of the virus in your system and allow you to live healthily for years before entering the later stages of AIDS. Even if you are not physically ill and are on ART, once you have the virus, you will always be able to transmit it to others.
Do condoms protect against HIV infection?
- Yes. Using either male or female condoms correctly in every sexual act, including the first time you have sex, protects against HIV infection. Condoms also prevent pregnancy. Using condoms correctly (no slipping off, tears, oils with male condoms) every time is very important. Many people do not use condoms consistently or correctly and thus risk HIV infection.
Isn’t it true that HIV is so small that it can pass through the condom?
- No. The condom is an effective barrier to HIV when used correctly.
If a sex partner wants to use a condom, does that mean the person has HIV or thinks the other person does?
- No. Many people use condoms because it is a safer way to have sex. In fact, the condom is the only contraceptive method that provides dual protection: it protects both against HIV infection and against pregnancy. Some people prefer to use a condom (to avoid risk of HIV) along with another contraceptive method for added protection against pregnancy.
How can I be sure that I do not have HIV?
- You can be tested for HIV. An HIV test detects antibodies to HIV, which the body produces when virus or bacteria infect it. It usually takes three months after exposure to HIV for a test to detect these antibodies. Several kinds of HIV tests are available at health clinics and other facilities. The most common tests require a sample of blood. Most newer tests can give the result within 15-30 minutes, although some tests take longer to deliver results. An HIV test should also always include a counseling session with a health professional before and afterwards to help you understand the test and its results and to answer your questions. You can have a free HIV test with pre- and post-test counseling at the student health services at UWC.
When should I have an HIV test?
- It is important to be tested if you currently engage in or have ever engaged in behaviour that might expose you to HIV infection, such as having any kind of sex without a condom, injecting drugs or receiving a blood transfusion. Some specific occasions for having an HIV test include:
- You are about to begin a sexual relationship with someone and you both want to be sure that there is no risk for HIV infection.
- You and your partner plan to have a baby and want to be sure that the baby will not face risk of HIV infection from the mother during pregnancy, childbirth or breast-feeding.
- You want to confirm your own HIV status because a sex partner or someone you shared needles with is seriously ill or has just died and you suspect AIDS.
What are the possible results of an HIV test?
- A test result can be HIV-negative, HIV-positive, or indeterminate. If you test HIV-negative, it probably means that you are not infected, but it could mean instead that you took the test too soon after exposure to HIV for the antibodies to have developed, as there is a window period of 3 to 6 months between infection and the appearance of antibodies. If you test HIV-positive, it is almost certain that you are infected. The chances that an HIV-positive result is wrong are very low. An intermediate test result means that it is not clear whether you have HIV or not. Then you have to take the test again. Also, whether you test HIV-negative or HIV-positive, you might sometimes be asked to take the test again to be sure of the result.
How often should I get tested?
- How often you should get tested depends on your behaviour, so you should consult a health care provider for the specific answer. If you are engaging in behaviour that could cause infection, it is important to be tested every six months because you could get infected at any time.
Is there a difference between an anonymous test and a confidential test?
- Yes, in anonymous testing, the test site does not ask for any personal information - such as your name, address, or telephone number - so no one but you have access to your personal HIV test results. In confidential testing, your personal information is linked to the test result, but it is kept private and not revealed to others. UWC conducts confidential testing.
Do I have to tell anybody what my HIV and AIDS status is?
- Whether you tell anybody your HIV and AIDS status and whom you tell are decisions that only you can make. However, if your status puts a partner at risk for infection, they may have a right to know. A counselor may be able to help you make the decision.
How can I best tell someone that I have HIV and AIDS?
- Telling close friends and family members that you have HIV and AIDS takes courage. Before you tell anyone, you need to feel emotionally stable about your HIV status. You may want to consult an HIV counselor, peer educator, health care worker or clergyman and ask for suggestions and advice. When you tell people, be prepared to deal with a range of reactions, from fear, rejection and anger to compassion and understanding.