HIV stands for human immunodeficiency virus. This is the virus that causes AIDS. HIV is different from most other viruses because it attacks the immune system. HIV finds and destroys a type of white blood cell (T cells or CD4 cells) that the immune system must have to fight disease.

AIDS stands for acquired immunodeficiency syndrome. AIDS is the final stage of HIV infection. It can take years for a person infected with HIV, even without treatment, to reach this stage.

Having AIDS means that the virus has weakened the immune system to the point at which the body has a difficult time fighting infections. When someone has one or more of these infections and a low number of T cells, he or she has AIDS.

In 2007, about 33.2 million people worldwide are living with HIV, and more than 2 million people have died from AIDS.

In the United States, an estimated 1 million people are living with HIV; of these, about 25 percent are unaware of their HIV infection and at risk for infecting others.

HIV is a fragile virus. It cannot live for very long outside the body.

As a result, the virus is not transmitted through day-to-day activities such as shaking hands, hugging, or a casual kiss. You cannot become infected from a toilet seat, drinking fountain, doorknob, dishes, drinking glasses, food, or pets. You also cannot get HIV from mosquitoes.

HIV is primarily found in the blood, semen, or vaginal fluid of an infected person. HIV is primarily transmitted in three ways: Having sex (anal, vaginal, or oral) with someone infected with HIV; Sharing needles and syringes with someone infected with HIV; and being exposed (fetus or infant) to HIV before or during birth or through breast feeding. HIV can also be transmitted through blood infected with HIV.

The only way to know whether you are infected is to be tested for HIV.

You cannot rely on symptoms alone because many people who are infected with HIV do not have symptoms for many years. Someone can look and feel healthy but can still be infected.

Even if you think you have low risk for HIV infection, get tested whenever you have a regular medical check-up.

To protect yourself, remember these ABCs:

A=Abstinence

Abstain from sex (do not have oral, anal, or vaginal sex) until you are in a relationship with only one person, are having sex with only each other, and each of you knows the other’s HIV status. 

B=Be Faithful

If you have, or plan to have, more than one sex partner, consider getting tested for HIV. Talk about HIV and other STDs with each partner before you have sex. Learn as much as you can about each partner’s past behavior (sex and drug use), and consider the risks to your health before you have sex.

C=Condoms

Use a latex condom and lubricant every time you have sex.

Contact Preventive Medicine at (804) 734-9249 or your Primary Care Provider for HIV testing.

– Kenner Army Health Clinic