What is HIV/AIDS?

Let’s talk HIV/AIDS

What is HIV and AIDS?

HIV is a virus that attacks and breaks down your body’s immune system, putting you at greater risk for infections and making it harder to get better when you catch something. If HIV does enough damage to your immune system it causes AIDS (Acquired ImmunoDeficiency Syndrome). HIV is not yet curable but when HIV is managed well with chronic treatment, the virus does not cause AIDS. Those managing HIV with treatment can resume a largely uninterrupted life.

What does HIV/AIDS look like?

When someone first gets HIV it can look like any general illness. It can cause a fever, chills, aches, swollen lymph nodes and fatigue. It can also look like nothing. If untreated, the HIV will slowly (or quickly for some individuals) progress to AIDS. When this happens your body’s defense has been weakened by the virus and you become more susceptible to other illnesses because you can’t defend yourself from them or fight them off.

How do I get HIV?

HIV is carried in vaginal fluid, cum, pre-cum and blood and is shared when those fluids, from a person living with HIV, get into your bloodstream. This often happens through tiny breaks in your skin, so small you don’t notice them. Think about ways that blood or cum can get into your bloodstream. Unprotected sex, sharing tools to use drugs at a party, trying a new rough thing in the bed without protection, bottoming without a condom. 

You CANNOT get HIV from hugging, shaking hands, sharing utensils or other forms of casual contact. You also can’t get it from kissing, but if both partners have open sores or wounds in their mouth and there is blood shared this may transmit it.

How do I know if I have HIV?

Order an Ash STI Testing Kit!

HIV does not always present itself in obvious ways. If you are sexually active, you should get tested regularly.

What do I do if me or my partner has HIV? 

Finding out you have HIV can be overwhelming. We know you may be freaking out. We are here for you. You can talk to someone confidentially, right now HERE, HERE & HERE .

We want you to know that you are not alone and you are going to be ok. Things have changed SO MUCH since HIV was first discovered. Most of our fears are based on outdated images from before we had good treatments for HIV. HIV is a chronic illness just like so many other conditions that millions of people live with and it can be managed just like them.

Learn about HIV care HERE

The first thing you should do is get over to your doctor. They will need to run some more tests and can get you setup with a treatment plan to manage your infection. When well managed HIV can be suppressed to the point that the virus is no longer detectable in your blood. At this level it will not cause damage to your immune system, but it also makes it much harder to transmit. Undetectable = Untransmittable 

Learn about U=U HERE

If your partner has HIV you must get tested as well, if you test negative, you can talk to your doctor about PrEP, a medication which protects you from HIV. If you take PrEP and your partner is Undetectable, it is almost impossible to share HIV.

72 hours after being exposed to HIV, you can take a medication called Post Exposure Prophylaxis (PEP). This can stop the virus from causing a chronic infection. Most doctors and emergency rooms can give you PEP.

Ready to learn more about HIV and AIDS – CDC Fact Sheet