3 things people get wrong

about HIV

HIV stands for human immunodeficiency virus. Imagine your body as an army. HIV attacks the part of your body that fights disease (the immune system), and makes the immune system not work right.

Sometimes there are no signs of HIV at first. You can’t tell if you have HIV until you get a test. Also, many people with HIV look healthy and can still transmit HIV.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), about 1.2 million people in the United States had HIV at the end of 2021, the most recent year for which this information is available. Of those people, about 87% knew they had HIV.

Is there a cure for HIV?

No. There is no cure for HIV. But, some medicines can make you feel better and stay healthy.

What is AIDS?

AIDS is the last stage of HIV. It stands for Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome, which means the immune system is damaged and allows the person with AIDS to experience more severe illnesses. Today HIV is not curable, but it is treatable. Contracting HIV does not automatically mean you have AIDS.

Young People and HIV

There were 32,100 new HIV infections diagnosed in 2021. About 6,100 of those were in young people ages 13-24.

You can protect yourself from HIV–learn the risks, know how to prevent infection, and get tested.

How do I get HIV?

HIV is passed to sex partners through blood, semen (cum), seminal fluid (pre-cum), and vaginal fluids.

Vaginal, anal, or oral sex without a condom is the main way people get HIV. HIV can infect anyone if they have unprotected sex or share drug needles with infected partners. Using condoms prevents your partner’s blood, seminal fluid, semen, and vaginal fluids from getting in your body. Those bodily fluids have HIV. Even in oral sex, there should be some plastic or latex cover or barrier between you and your partner. This barrier keeps you from your partner’s bodily fluids.

You can get HIV from direct contact, like having vaginal, anal, or oral sex or sharing injection drug needles and syringes. You can also get HIV from indirect contact, like when pregnant people pass HIV to their babies during childbirth or breastfeeding.

Some activities make you more likely to get HIV, like:

  • Sharing needles and syringes
  • Having condomless vaginal, anal, or oral sex and not taking PrEP
  • Having another sexually transmitted infection (STI) or tuberculosis (TB)

You CANNOT get HIV from:

  • hugging, kissing, talking to or touching a person with HIV
  • an insect bite (like from a mosquito)
  • casual contact (like sharing food and drink, using a public restroom, or swimming together)

How do I find out if I have HIV?

Sometimes the signs of HIV look the same as the signs of other STIs. Some people don’t show signs of HIV for a long time.

The only way to tell if you have HIV is to get an HIV test. You can get a test from a doctor’s office, health departments, Planned Parenthood, community clinics, and college health centers. You can easily search for a clinic near you.

Shooting Drugs

IF YOU NEED HELP TO STOP TAKING DRUGS: CALL National Drug and Alcohol Hotline for help: 1-800-662-43457.

Sharing drug equipment such as needles or syringes is any easy way to get HIV. When you inject the drug in your skin, blood will come up the needle. When you share someone’s needle and it hasn’t been cleaned, the blood left in the needle will be injected into you. This is how people get infected.

You don’t have to inject drugs like heroin, cocaine, or speed. Sharing needles for injecting steroids could also infect you.

If you shoot up drugs and share needles, there is a big risk for getting HIV and other infections like hepatitis B and C.

One way to avoid getting HIV is to not use drugs or share needles. You should use a new, clean needle if possible.

Tattooing and Body Piercing

Some people are afraid that you can get HIV through body piercing or tattooing. You can ask a tattoo parlor to explain what they do to stop HIV from being passed from person to person.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says that tattooing and piercing needles should be used once and thrown away OR sterilized (thoroughly cleaned).

Some people have friends who do tattooing with pins, needles, writing pens, and even knives. This is not a good idea. Those things may not be clean and could pass HIV to you without you knowing.

If you are thinking about getting a tattoo or piercing, choose a reputable shop and make sure they do it safely and cleanly.

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