What Is HIV? AIDS? How do People Get HIV?


What Is HIV? AIDS? How do People Get HIV?

HIV is a virus that attacks the body’s immune system. HIV stands for Human Immunodeficiency Virus. If it’s not treated, it can lead to AIDS, Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome. Today, people with HIV can get treated and live as long as anyone else!

People can get HIV through vaginal or anal sex. There’s also a low risk of getting HIV through oral sex. People can also get it from sharing needles for drugs, piercings, or tattoos.

How does HIV work?

Without treatment, HIV weakens someone’s immune system. This makes it harder for their body to fight off infections, so they’re more likely to get sick. If their body stops fighting off enough severe illnesses, called opportunistic infections, doctors say they have developed AIDS, the most severe stage of HIV. Even then, they can still get on treatment for HIV, start fighting off these infections, and live a long life with HIV.

There’s currently no cure for HIV, but people who continue to take treatments can live as long as someone without HIV.

Someone who doesn’t have HIV can lower their risk by using condoms, getting tested regularly, and taking medication like PEP or PrEP.

People who have HIV can lower their partner’s risk by using condoms, getting treated, and regularly checking to see if they have an undetectable viral load. When their viral load is undetectable, they have very little HIV in their body. That means it’s almost impossible for them to pass HIV to someone else.

How can someone get HIV?

There are 5 bodily fluids that can pass HIV:

  • Semen (cum)/pre-cum
  • Vaginal fluid
  • Anal fluid
  • Blood
  • Breast milk (only from a parent to a baby)

To get the virus, 3 things need to happen:

  • One person involved needs to already have HIV.
    • They need to have enough of the virus in their system for it to be detectable. This usually means they aren’t on treatment or they just started. It can take 3-6 months of being on ART (antiretroviral therapy) to become undetectable.
  • One of the 5 bodily fluids that contain pass HIV needs to be involved.
  • The fluid needs a way to get into your body. This is can be from a needle into your bloodstream or through the vagina or anus, all of which are high risk for transmission. Rarely, it can get in through the mouth, which is a low risk area.

Can I get HIV from kissing? From oral sex?

A lot of people ask if you can get the virus from kissing. You can’t get HIV from saliva, so it’s almost impossible to get it from kissing unless one of the 5 bodily fluids that contain pass HIV is involved.

People also ask if someone can get HIV through oral sex. Receiving oral sex has low or no risk because you can’t get it from saliva. Giving oral sex is still low risk, because it’s harder for the virus to get in through someone’s mouth or stomach.

Can I get HIV from…?

There are different levels of risk of getting HIV from different activities.

There’s no real risk for HIV from:

  • Kissing
  • Masturbating each other
  • Shaking hands
  • Using the same toilet
  • Sharing drinks
  • Oral sex with a condom or dental dam (a square of latex you between a mouth and a vagina or an anus)

It’s rare, but there’s a low risk from:

  • Oral sex without a condom or dental dam
  • Anal or vaginal sex with a condom
  • Sharing straws for snorting drugs

There’s a high risk from:

  • Sharing needles for using drugs
  • Sharing tattoo or piercing needles
  • Anal or vaginal sex without a condom

How can I protect myself from getting HIV if I still want to have sex?

The best way to help protect yourself from getting the virus when having sex is:

  • Using condoms for vaginal and anal sex
  • Using condoms or dental dams (squares of latex) for oral sex
  • Adding lube to lower the risk for any tears or irritation
  • Using PrEP, or pre-exposure prophylaxis. This is a drug you can take every day to lower your risk for HIV.
  • Get tested regularly

While these all help to lower the risk for HIV, they might not protect against other STIs. Sex is also never 100% safe because condoms can break or other things can happen. If you’re worried, it might help to remember that people can live long and happy lives with HIV. Some studies show that people living with HIV live just as long as those living without the virus.

Is there a cure for HIV?

There is no cure for HIV. But, there are treatments that can help HIV positive people live well into their 70’s. So they can have the virus, but never get AIDS and live as long as someone who doesn’t have it.

Most people on treatment for HIV have an undetectable viral load. This means that there’s a very small amount of the virus in their body and they can’t pass the virus to other people.

More info

HIV/AIDS Treatment and Care

Brief introduction to antiretroviral treatment, combination therapy, and some examples of antiretroviral drugs. –


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