HIV, Human Immunodeficiency Virus, is the virus that causes AIDS. HIV is a chronic medical condition that can be treated, but not yet cured. HIV weakens the body's immune system. The immune system is a person's bodily defense against disease and infection. HIV will weaken this defense by killing off a person's CD4 cells (also called T-cells). CD4 cells direct your body's immune system. HIV will kill off a person's CD4 cells until the body develops AIDS, or has very little defense to fight off illnesses.

AIDS, Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome, occurs when the body’s immune system has been seriously weakened by HIV-infection. A physician makes a diagnosis (using specific clinical or laboratory standards) of AIDS when the body has very little defense against any sort of infection. Thus, a person with AIDS can develop conditions or diseases that most healthy people can resist or control. These conditions or diseases may be responsible for death amongst persons with AIDS after the immune system has broken down.

How long it takes before initial HIV-infection progresses to AIDS, can depend on a wide variety of factors. People who become infected with HIV may have no symptoms for several years. Depending on the person, progression from initial HIV infection to a diagnosis of advanced HIV infection or AIDS can take less or longer time. The best thing to do is consult with a medical expert.

Note: With standard HIV-antibody testing, most people will test positive for HIV within 24 days to three months after initial HIV infection. It can take up to six months for a person to test positive, but rarely.

With medical treatment and the introduction of new HIV antiretroviral medication a person living with HIV can prolong the time between HIV infection and the onset of AIDS. Modern combination therapy is highly effective and; theoretically, someone with HIV can live for a long time before it results in AIDS.

Note: Medications for HIV can be very expensive and can result in some very unpleasant side effects.

HIV can be transmitted when infected body fluids come in contact with mucous membrane or the bloodstream. While the presence of HIV has been found in many body fluids, it is primarily transmitted by infected:

  • Blood
  • Semen (including pre-semen)
  • Vaginal Fluids
  • Breast milk
  • Other body fluids containing blood

Those working in a health care setting should also be aware of the following additional body fluids that may transmit the virus:

  • fluid surrounding the brain and the spinal cord
  • fluid surrounding bone joints
  • fluid surrounding an unborn baby

Note: There is no evidence that saliva, sweat, tears, or urine has ever transmitted HIV. Mosquitoes, ticks, hugging, toilet seats, towels, sharing eating utensils, and donating blood DO NOT pass HIV.

AIDS Outreach of EAMC can provided specific education and awareness workshops concerning HIV and specialized topics. Topics include:

  • Sexual Activity (oral, vaginal, and/or anal penetration):
    • HIV in semen, blood, and vaginal fluids can pass through the thin mucous membranes, tiny cuts, or open sores of the penis, vagina, rectum, or mouth. HIV is primarily spread through sexual activity. For information on HIV prevention and sexual activity, please see our Prevention Page.
  • Sharing Needles or Other "WORKS":
    • Needles shared for injecting drugs, medications, vitamins, steroids, tattoos, or piercings can transmit HIV. Do not share needles, syringes, cookers, cottons, and/or water when injecting drugs or other substances. If you have an accidental needle stick, please seek medical attention immediately. If you are using illegal drugs or abusing alcohol and/or prescription medication, get help to stop.
  • Mother to Fetus or Newborn:
    • A pregnant woman infected with HIV can pass HIV before birth, during birth, or while breast-feeding. If pregnant or planning pregnancy, consider an HIV test. Highly effective treatments exist that can prevent HIV-infected women from transmitting the virus to their infants. For more information on HIV testing and pregnancy, please view this document.
  • Blood to Blood Contact:

The only absolute way to tell if a person is infected with HIV is to be tested with an HIV test. Many people do not have any symptoms when they first become infected with HIV. However, some people have flu-like or mono-like symptoms that often appear within 3 to 6 weeks of initial exposure to the virus, although symptoms can develop within just a few days.

Initial symptoms range from mild to severe and usually disappear on their own after 2 to 3 weeks. Do not assume that you or anyone else is infected with HIV, if these symptoms occur. These symptoms are associated with other types of infection other than HIV. Once again, the only way to tell if a person is infected is through HIV testing.

When HIV enters a person's body, the body begins to make HIV antibodies to fight of the infection. Most HIV tests measure the antibodies your body makes against HIV. It can take between 24 days and six months for the body to create enough antibodies that can be detected by most widely used HIV-anibody tests. Most people (over 95%) will develop detectable antibodies within 3 months after initial HIV-infection. During the time between exposure and the test, it is important to avoid any behavior that might result in exposure to blood, semen, vaginal secretions, or breast milk.

The US Centers of Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that those at high risk for HIV-infection be screened and tested at least once a year.

Many places offer testing:

  • Local health department
  • Private Doctor offices
  • Hospitals
  • Medical clinics

Unity Wellness Center offers Orasure and OraQuick ADAVANCE Oral Fluid confidential HIV-antibody testing. Learn more on our Testing page.

Discuss with your HIV counselor options to remain negative and to prevent HIV infection. Depending on your risk of exposure and when, you might want to consider and discuss follow-up testing to account for the possibility of a false-negative result.

Testing HIV-positive does not mean that you have AIDS. AIDS is the later stage of HIV-infection. Confirm test results, discuss positive steps/options with a HIV counselor and seek medical care. Appropriate medical care can help delay the onset of AIDS. Remember that you are not alone.