(*PDF version) for printing.
What is HIV? What is AIDS?
HIV is another name for the human immunodeficiency virus. A virus is a very small germ that can cause disease, and HIV is a virus that causes a weakening of the person's immune system.
AIDS is another name for the acquired immunodeficiency syndrome. AIDS is caused by HIV, and it is a disease in which the body's immune system breaks down.
Who gets HIV/AIDS?
Anyone can get HIV if the virus enters their body. With today's treatments, the hope is that eventually, people who are HIV positive will be able to stop the progression of HIV infection to AIDS. However, these therapies are so new that at this point, it is uncertain how effective they will be over time.
How is HIV spread?
You get infected with HIV in two main ways:
- Having sexual activity with an infected person
- Sharing needles or syringes with an infected person
Babies born to HIV-infected women may become infected. People with hemophilia or anyone who received blood transfusions between 1978 and 1985 may be at risk for an HIV infection.
You do not become infected by casual contact with an infected person or through insect bites or stings. HIV is not spread by coughs or sneezes. You cannot get HIV from giving blood at a blood bank or other established blood collection center. You won't get HIV from items such as clothes, phones, or toilet seats. It can't be passed on by things like spoons, cups, or other objects that someone who is infected with the virus has used.
How soon after exposure to HIV do the symptoms of AIDS appear?
A person who is infected with HIV may develop illnesses that signal the onset of AIDS within a year or two. Others may stay healthy for 10 years or even longer before symptoms appear. You cannot tell by looking at someone whether he or she is infected with HIV. An infected person may appear completely healthy.
When people who are infected with HIV begin to develop AIDS, they may experience a number of medical complications, including extreme weight loss, severe pneumonia, certain forms of cancer, and damage to their nervous system.
How is HIV diagnosed?
A blood test can detect HIV antibodies (substances made by your body in response to the virus) if you are infected. Usually, the body forms antibodies approximately six weeks after exposure to HIV. Therefore, you could be infected with HIV even though an antibody test result is negative if you are tested during this "window period."
If you suspect you may be at risk of being infected with HIV, talk with your health care provider, or someone who works at an HIV counseling and testing center (usually at your local health department) about having an HIV antibody test performed. Any woman who is considering having a baby and who thinks she might be at risk for HIV infection should seek counseling and testing before getting pregnant.
What is the treatment for HIV?
Today, more than ever, seeking early treatment for HIV or AIDS is extremely important. There are a number of medications available for the treatment of HIV and AIDS, and these medications may be prescribed even for HIV-infected persons who are not experiencing any symptoms. Even when no symptoms are visible, anyone infected with HIV should be under a doctor's care.
Women who are pregnant and think that they might be at risk for HIV infection need to be tested as soon as possible because there are treatments women can take which will significantly reduce the risk of HIV being transmitted to their unborn baby.
How can HIV be prevented?
Simply stated, two steps can prevent HIV infection:
- Do not have sexual activity with an infected person.
- Do not share needles or syringes with an infected person.
Remember, you cannot tell whether a person is infected or not by looking at them. Take personal responsibility to protect yourself.
Where can I get more information?
If you want to learn more about how to prevent HIV infection or AIDS, talk with your health care provider or the Utah AIDS Foundation (801-487-2323). You may also contact your local or state health department (The Utah Department of Health, Bureau of HIV/AIDS, Tuberculosis & Refugee Health, (801) 538-6096), or the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's National AIDS Hotline (1-800-342-AIDS).
UTAH DEPARTMENT OF HEALTH
This fact sheet was based on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's AIDS Prevention Guide.