What are HIV and AIDS?
HIV (Human Immunodeficiency Virus) is a virus that attacks the immune system (the body’s defense against infection). HIV uses healthy white blood cells to replicate itself, breaking down the immune system and leaving the body more susceptible to illness. Without treatment, most people infected with HIV become less able to fight off germs that we are exposed to every day.
AIDS (Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome)is a late stage of HIV infection. An HIV positive person is diagnosed with AIDS when their immune system is so weakened that it is no longer able to fight off illness. People with immune deficiency are much more vulnerable to infections such as pneumonia and various forms of cancer. These diseases are called opportunistic infections because they take advantage of the weakened immune system. Ultimately, people do not die from AIDS itself, they die from one or more of these opportunistic infections.
HIV/AIDS Is there a cure?
There is still NO cure or vaccine for HIV or AIDS, and there probably won’t be for quite a few years to come. Once infected, there is no way to get the virus out of your body. However, there are some drugs which help to slow down the damage HIV does to your immune system and therefore slow down the onset of AIDS.
How would I contract HIV/AIDS?
The most common ways that people become infected with HIV are:
- Having sex without a condom
- Sharing needles, syringes or drug works
- Pregnancy, childbirth or breastfeeding
HIV is transmitted from person to person through the exchange of bodily fluids. While the HIV virus can be found in all bodily fluids of an infected person only these fluids contain a high enough concentration of HIV to transmit the virus:
- Semen (including pre-cum)
- Vaginal secretions
- Breast milk
HIV/AIDS is NOT spread by:
- Air or water
- Insects, including mosquitoes. Studies conducted by CDC researchers and others have shown no evidence of HIV transmission from insects.
- Saliva, tears, or sweat. There is no documented case of HIV being transmitted by spitting.
- Casual contact like shaking hands or sharing dishes.
- Closed-mouth or “social” kissing.
What actions put me at risk for contracting HIV/AIDS and STDs?
- Engaging in unprotected (without condom or dental dam) oral, anal, or vaginal sex.
- Sharing unclean drug paraphernalia like syringes and cookers, or sharing unclean needles used for tattoos and body piercing with a person who is HIV positive or unaware of their HIV status.
- The use of drugs and/or alcohol can also put you at risk by making it harder for you to practice safe behavior.
- Assuming your partner is clean based on appearance:
- STDs – Some sexually transmitted diseases can be transmitted by an infected person even if they don’t have any symptoms. According to the CDC estimates suggest that even though young people aged 15-24 years represent only 25% of the sexually experienced population, they acquire nearly half of all new STDs.
- HIV/AIDS – People who appear perfectly healthy may not know they have the virus and can pass it on to others. 1 out of 4 Americans with HIV do not know they have the virus. HIV is often asymptomatic for years, so the only way to know your status is to get tested.
Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis (PrEP)
PrEP − Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis − is a daily pill that can help you stay HIV-negative. The medicines in PrEP can protect you before you might be exposed to HIV.
- Consider PrEP. PrEP is for HIV-negative people who are at risk of being exposed to HIV through sex or injecting drugs and who are ready to take a daily pill.
- Talk to Your Doctor. You need to speak with a doctor or nurse before you start using PrEP. Your doctor or nurse can help you decide if PrEP is right for you. These clinics can help you get PrEP.
- Take PrEP Every Day. PrEP is taken daily in pill form. Do not skip a dose. PrEP works much better at stopping HIV if you take it every day.
- Use Condoms. Even if you take PrEP daily, condoms give you additional protection against HIV, other sexually transmitted infections, and unintended pregnancy.
- Know the Common Side Effects. PrEP can have mild side effects, like stomach pain, weight loss and headaches, especially at the beginning of treatment. PrEP may not be right for everyone. Talk to your doctor.
- Find Out about Paying for PrEP. Many insurance plans including Medicaid cover PrEP. Assistance may be available if you are uninsured.
- Know about PEP. PrEP is not an emergency medication. If you think you were recently exposed to HIV, you may need emergency PEP.
How does PrEP stop HIV?
PrEP contains the same medicines that people with HIV use to stay healthy. If you are exposed to HIV, these medicines can stop the virus from multiplying and spreading throughout your body. PrEP only works if you have enough medicine in your body, so you need to take PrEP every day.
Should I consider taking PrEP?
PrEP is for people who are HIV-negative, have a high risk of being exposed to HIV through sex or drug injection, and are ready to take a daily pill.
Studies have shown that PrEP works for sexually-active gay and bisexual men, heterosexual women and men, and injection drug users, and is also likely to benefit transgender women. PrEP can help protect anyone whose partner has HIV.
How do I take PrEP?
PrEP is prescribed by a doctor or nurse. You should take PrEP exactly as prescribed. With PrEP, you take a pill once a day, even on the days you don’t have sex or inject drugs.
The only medication currently approved for PrEP is Truvada®, a combination pill that contains two different medicines: emtricitabine (Emtriva®) and tenofovir (Viread®).
PrEP only works if you are HIV-negative.
- Before you start PrEP, you take an HIV test to make sure that you do not have HIV. You also have a check-up to make sure your kidneys and liver are healthy.
- While you are on PrEP, your doctor or nurse will test you regularly for HIV and other sexually transmitted infections. They will also ask you about your HIV risk and whether you are taking PrEP every day.
PrEP can help you stay HIV-negative when your risk of HIV exposure is high. You may decide to stop taking this medication if your risk changes. But do not stop taking PrEP without first talking to your doctor. Also, tell your doctor if you are thinking about becoming pregnant or if you become pregnant while on PrEP.
Is PrEP safe? What are the side effects?
PrEP is safe. The pill used for PrEP, Truvada®, has been used to treat people with HIV since 2004.
PrEP can cause mild side effects, including upset stomach, headaches and weight loss, especially at the beginning of treatment. Rare side effects include kidney or bone problems. Your doctor or nurse can help if side effects are bothering you.
How well does PrEP work?
PrEP is not 100% effective. You can still get HIV, especially if you do not have not enough medicine in your body. In different studies, people taking PrEP were 44% to 75% less likely to get HIV than comparison groups, and people who took PrEP consistently were up to 92% less likely to get HIV.
Can I take PrEP only on the days when I have sex?
No. You must take PrEP every day to keep enough medicine in your body to protect you from HIV.
Post-Exposure Prophylaxis (PEP)
Take Emergency PEP After Exposure to HIV
PEP − Post-Exposure Prophylaxis − is an emergency medication for people who are HIV-negative and may have been exposed to HIV. If you think you were exposed to HIV, go immediately to a clinic or emergency room and ask for PEP.
PEP: The Basics
- Know Your Risk. PEP can protect you if you had anal or vaginal sex without a condom with someone who has, or might have, HIV. PEP can also prevent HIV if you were exposed while injecting drugs.
- Act Fast.PEP works best if started right away. Go to an emergency room or clinic as soon as possible and ask about PEP. You should begin PEP no more than 36 hours after exposure.
- Take PEP for 28 Days. PEP is taken in pill form for 28 days. You need to take PEP each day to keep enough medicine in your body to stop HIV. If you want to stop taking PEP, talk to your doctor first.
- Know about Common Side Effects. PEP can have mild side effects, like stomach pain and headache.
- Be Ready to Follow-Up. After you finish taking PEP, your doctor will give you an HIV test to make sure PEP worked.
- Find Out about Paying for PEP. Many insurance plans including Medicaid cover PEP. Assistance may be available if you are uninsured.
- Consider PrEP: If you often worry about exposure to HIV, ask your doctor about PrEP – a daily pill that helps prevent HIV.
How does PEP stop HIV?
PEP contains some of the same medicines that people with HIV take to stay healthy. If you are exposed to HIV, it takes a few days for an HIV infection to take hold in your body. As soon as you start PEP, these medicines begin to stop the virus from multiplying. As you continue taking PEP for the full 28–days, cells with HIV die and the virus stops spreading to the rest of your body.
How do I know if I need PEP?
If you are HIV-negative, PEP can protect you if you had anal or vaginal sex without a condom (or your condom broke) with someone who has HIV or may have HIV. PEP can stop HIV if you were the victim of sexual assault. PEP can also stop HIV if you were exposed while injecting drugs.
You may be at higher risk of HIV infection if you were the receptive (or “bottom”) partner in anal or vaginal sex (if you had a partner’s penis in your anus or vagina). Receptive partners have a greater chance of exposure to HIV through semen or blood.
PEP is NOT usually recommended after sex that has a lower risk of spreading HIV, like oral sex. If you are unsure whether you are at risk of HIV infection, ask a doctor.
PEP is only meant to be used for a one-time exposure to HIV. If you often worry about being exposed to HIV, ask your doctor about PrEP – Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis – a daily pill that helps prevent HIV.
How do I take PEP?
PEP is prescribed by a doctor or nurse. You should take PEP exactly as prescribed.
You should begin PEP no more than 36 hours after exposure.
When you start PEP, you may be given a “starter pack” with a few days’ supply of pills. This gives you time to fill a prescription for the rest of the 28 days.
PEP is much more effective at stopping HIV if you take all the pills for the full 28 days. It is very important never to skip a dose. It is best to take your pills at the same time every day.
PEP involves several steps:
- Before you start PEP, you will be tested for HIV. Your healthcare provider will also check your kidney and liver function and your overall health.
- During a follow-up appointment or phone call, your provider will ask you about side effects and HIV risk, and make sure you are taking all the pills in PEP.
- When you finish PEP, you will be tested again to make sure you have not become infected with HIV.
- After you finish PEP, stay HIV-negative. Use condoms, and ask your doctor about PrEP. If you inject drugs, always use a clean syringe.
Is PEP safe? What are the side effects?
PEP is safe. Emergency PEP has been used for many years to stop HIV in people who were accidentally exposed while at work.
PEP can cause mild side effects, including upset stomach and headaches, especially at the beginning of treatment.
If side effects are bothering you, tell your medical provider right away. There may be ways to help you feel better. Do not stop taking PEP before talking to your provider.
How well does PEP work?
PEP is not 100% effective. But if you take PEP immediately after an exposure and for the full 28 days, it often prevents HIV infection. In one study of healthcare workers who were accidentally exposed to HIV, PEP reduced the rate of infection by 80%.
If I take PEP, do I still have to use condoms?
PEP does not provide full protection against HIV. Condoms give you and your partners additional protection, even while on PEP. Condoms also protect against other sexually transmitted infections (STIs) and unintended pregnancy.
PEP is for emergency situations. If you worry about regular exposure to HIV through sex or while injecting drugs,PrEP may be a better option for you.
For more information on PrEP and PEP visit The Centers for Disease Control website