Frequently Asked Questions
Remember you cannot look at someone and tell that they are infected with HIV, hepatitis C, or any other blood-borne pathogen.
Currently there is no vaccine to prevent HIV infection nor is there a cure. With early identification, behavior modification, support, and medical treatment people living with HIV live longer and healthier.
What is HIV?
HIV is the Human Immunodeficiency Virus, the virus that causes AIDS. This virus attacks an individual's immune system and reduces the individual's ability to fight off a variety of infections and some cancers.
What is AIDS?
When an individual infected with HIV begins to develop symptoms and/or infections a doctor may diagnose that person as having AIDS. AIDS is the Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome. A diagnosis of AIDS means that an individual is living with HIV and also has a CD4+T-cell count of 200 or less and an opportunistic infection.
What are CD4+ T cells?
CD4+ T cells are a type of white blood cells that assist in protecting the body from various forms of infection. These specific white blood cells are responsible for fighting off infections. HIV targets and destroys these cells to weaken the immune system.
How is HIV passed from one person to another?
HIV can be passed from an infected person to an uninfected person through unprotected anal, vaginal, oral sex. HIV can also be passed while sharing needles or reusing equipment when injecting drugs, tattooing or body piercing. HIV can also be passed from an infected mother to her baby during pregnancy, childbirth or breastfeeding. The body fluids that are known to transmit HIV from one person to another are:
- Semen (e.g. thick whitish secretion released from a man's penis during sexual arousal)
- Vaginal Fluids (e.g. natural lubricant found in a woman's vagina during sexual arousal and fluid released during sexual climax)
- Breast Milk
How is HIV not spread?
HIV is not spread through casual contact. Casual contact can be considered to be any activities, in which an individual does not come into contact with another's blood, semen, vaginal fluids, or breast milk. Specifically HIV cannot be spread by:
- Shaking hands
- Dry kissing
- Using the same eating or drinking utensils
- Restroom facilities
- Attending the same church, school, or work place
Abstinence is refraining from vaginal, anal, or oral sex and avoiding drug and alcohol usage. Drugs and alcohol are included with abstinence for two reasons.
- Injecting drugs and sharing needles is a primary route of HIV transmission by infected blood.
- When a person is “high” or intoxicated he/she may participate (willing or unwilling) in vaginal, anal or oral sexual activities that may put them at risk for HIV infection.
Universal precautions refer to the activities that avoid contact with blood or bodily fluids containing blood.
Universal precautions include:
- Wearing latex gloves when coming into contact with blood, skin and mucous membrane cuts, or any open skin lesion.
- Using gloves only for the care of one child, then discard the gloves.
- Washing hands after discarding the gloves.
- Properly disposing of contaminated materials exposed to blood, such as needles.
Safer Sex refers to the use of a latex condom for vaginal, anal, or oral sex. Some people have an allergy to latex and for these individuals a polyurethane condom is an alternative. Contact your doctor or primary care physician to determine if you have an allergy to latex.
Not sharing needles is a harm reduction method for individuals that use injection drugs. Injection drug use alone can have damaging affects on an individual's health. To reduce the possibility of HIV, hepatitis B, or other blood-borne pathogen exposure individuals should not share needles. In some cases an individual may share needles for tattooing, body piercing, or medicinal purposes (i.e. diabetes medication). If you are about to receive a tattoo or body piercing make sure that new sterile needles are being used.