What is HIV?

"HIV" stands for Human Immunodeficiency Virus and is the virus that can lead to "AIDS" or Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome. Unlike some other viruses the human body cannot get rid of HIV, which means once contracted you have it for life. HIV affects specific cells of the immune system called CD4 cells or T cells. Over time, HIV can destroy so many of these cells that the body can’t fight off infections and disease. When this happens, HIV infection leads to AIDS.

With proper medical care HIV can be controlled and its symptoms can be limited. Treatment for HIV is often called antiretroviral therapy or ART. It can dramatically prolong the lives of many people who are living with HIV and lower their chance of infecting others.

How is HIV spread?

HIV is hard to transmit and can only be spread from an infected person to another person through direct contact with certain bodily fluids including:
  • Blood
  • Breast Milk
  • Rectal or Vaginal Fluids
  • Semen
These body fluids must come into contact with a mucous membrane or damaged tissue or be directly injected into your bloodstream for transmission to possibly occur.

HIV is NOT spread by:
  • Air or Water
  • Drinking fountains
  • Saliva, tears, or sweat
  • Toilet seats
  • Insects, including mosquitoes or tick
  • Casual contact (shaking hands/hugging)
  • Sharing dishes/ drinking glasses
  • Scratched by an HIV-infected person

How can I tell if I am infected with HIV?

The only way to know if you are infected with HIV is to be tested. You cannot rely on symptoms to know whether you have HIV. Many people who are infected with HIV do not have any symptoms at all for 10 years or more; with some people reporting flu-like symptoms 2-4 weeks after exposure.

How is HIV treated?

HIV is treated with a combination of medications through a treatment called antiretroviral therapy (ART). ART is extremely effective and is recommended for all people with HIV regardless of length of infection or overall health. ART reduces the level of HIV in the blood (viral load) to such a low level that current HIV tests cannot detect it. ART can keep you healthy for many years and greatly reduce your chance of transmitting HIV to partners if taken consistently and correctly. ART usually consists of a combination of medicines that needs to be taken exactly as your health care provider prescribes. How many pills you need and how often you take them will depend on which medicines you and your health care provider select.

What is AIDS?

AIDS is short for acquired immunodeficiency syndrome. AIDS is the stage of infection that occurs when your immune system is badly damaged and you become vulnerable to infections and infection-related cancers called opportunistic illnesses.

Today many people living with HIV have not progressed to an AIDS diagnosis because of advances in care and treatment. If you have HIV it is important access care and start antiretroviral therapy (ART) right away. However, you should take advantage of ART even if you are diagnosed with HIV years after contracting it.

If I have HIV, does that mean that I have AIDS?

No. The terms “HIV” and “AIDS” can be confusing because both terms refer to the same disease. However, “HIV” refers to the virus itself, and “AIDS” refers to the late stage of HIV infection, when an HIV-infected person’s immune system is severely damaged and has difficulty fighting diseases and certain cancers. Before the development of certain medications, people with HIV could progress to AIDS in just a few years. But today, most people who are HIV-positive do not progress to AIDS, as consistent ART can keep HIV levels low. Consistently, low levels of HIV help ensure AIDS does not develop and lowers the risk of transmitting HIV to others.

CDC Campaign banner of Yuri, a person living with HIV: Think you can slow me down, HIV? Not in this lifetime, says Yuri of Miami, Florida. HIV Treatment Works. Get in Care. Stay in Care. Live Well. Hear his story at cdc.gov/HIVTreatmentWorks.

Valla digital de la campaña de CDC. Imagen de una mujer latina y un joven latino y dos burbujas con mensajes que representan la importancia de tener conversaciones acerca del VIH.