Let’s talk about HIV — and let’s start with the good news. Advances in HIV medication over the past 25 years mean that people can now live long, happy, healthy lives with HIV. Sure, it takes management and keeping on top of your health. But when someone gets HIV, it’s not the end of the world — or even their life.
So here’s some information about HIV. We know you’ll walk away feeling better informed and even more empowered in your own sex life.
When it comes to HIV, using a condom makes sex 10,000 times safer than not using a condom. – Leslie Khantor
EVERYTHING YOU WANTED TO KNOW ABOUT HIV
WHAT IS HIV?
HIV stands for human immunodeficiency virus. Human beings get HIV by having sex without a condom with someone who has it or through blood-to-blood contact, like sharing a needle for injectable drugs. It can also be passed from mother to baby, if mom isn’t on medication.
And although there’s no cure for HIV, it’s still treatable and manageable. With treatment, people living with HIV can have long, healthy lives.
WHAT’S THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN HIV AND AIDS?
HIV is a virus that, if left untreated, can turn into AIDS (acquired immunodeficiency syndrome), which is the most serious stage of the infection. But HIV won’t advance to AIDS if a person living with HIV takes their medication.
While HIV may not show any symptoms for up to 10 years, many people have flu-like symptoms two to four weeks after catching the virus. If left untreated, HIV will develop into AIDs after about 10 years. A person living with HIV is diagnosed with AIDS when they’ve lost a certain number of CD4 cells (important cells that make your immune system work) or start getting rare infections or types of cancer. Click here to learn more about the symptoms of AIDS.
HOW IS HIV SPREAD?
HIV is spread by:
- Unprotected sexual contact
- Sharing needles through drug use
- Mother to baby during pregnancy, birth, or breastfeeding
WHY SHOULD I GET TESTED?
Getting tested for HIV and other STDs is an essential part of being a sexual being. It keeps you in firm control of your sexual health. Also, since the early stages of HIV have very few symptoms, it’s really the only way to know for sure whether or not you have it. And if you do have HIV, the sooner you know, the sooner you can start treatment.
HOW CAN I TALK TO MY PARTNER ABOUT TESTING?
Look, we know: Talking about testing is never fun. But talking to your partner about testing is an important part of taking care of your sexual health. So it’s worth pushing through the awkward and having the conversation.
Here are some sample conversation starters, to get you going:
“I care about you and I want us to be as close as possible. How do you feel about getting tested for STDs together?”
“The last time I got tested for STDS, it was not anywhere near as weird as I expected it to be. Has that happened to you? Have you ever been tested?”
“I just read that you can get an HIV test with an oral swab! That’s awesome — I’m scared of blood. Want to go do it with me?”
“I feel awkward bringing this up, but I care about you. Would you be willing to go get tested for STDs with me? We could do something fun afterward, like go to that place we love for lunch!”
WHAT’S AN HIV TEST LIKE?
Fun fact: there’s more than one type of HIV test. At the most basic level, some tests are blood tests, some are oral, some give you results within 30 minutes, and some take a couple weeks. With an oral test, the health care provider will take a swab inside your mouth and you’ll have a result within 20 minutes. With a a blood test, they’ll prick your finger and if it’s a rapid test, you’ll have results within 20 minutes. If it needs to be sent to another lab — and any rapid test that comes back with a positive will be followed by a blood test that needs to be sent out to a lab — it will take a few weeks. Your doctor will give you a better estimate of the timing.
There are also a lot of details about how early a test can detect the virus, so if you’re interested in learning more about the different types of HIV tests, check out this resource from AidsInfo.
I GOT MY RESULTS. NOW WHAT?
So your results for your rapid test came back positive. The first thing that’s going to happen is the health care provider is going to do another blood test and send it out to a lab to confirm the results. It’s going to take a few weeks to hear back, but if it comes back positive, you’ll sit down with your doctor and work out a treatment plan that works best for you. You can have a long, healthy, active lifestyle by following your treatment plan, seeing your doctor regularly, and, of course, taking advantage of the resources and support systems right here in the District.
And if the results of your HIV test come back as negative, that’s great! But it doesn’t mean it’s time to stop thinking about HIV. That test gave you information about your status at a particular point in time. And, as we’ve covered, getting tested regularly is part of being a healthy sexual being, so it’s a good idea to continue to get tested.
There are some other steps you can take to prevent yourself from catching the virus in the future:
- Use traditional or internal condoms. We’ll even give them to you for free!
- Consider taking PrEP (pre-exposure prophylaxis), a daily pill that lowers your chances of catching HIV by more than 90% from sex, and 70% from drug injection.
- If you think you’ve been exposed to HIV within the last 72 hours, ask your doctor about PEP (post-exposure prophylaxis), a medication that can stop HIV from developing inside your body.
WHAT KIND OF MEDICATION IS THERE FOR HIV?
Medication for HIV is called antiretroviral therapy (ART). While they don’t kill HIV, they do prevent its growth. People living with HIV who take their ART consistently and correctly go on to lead long, healthy lives.