The Most Frequently Asked HIV/AIDS Questions

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    According to the National Center for Health Statistics, HIV/AIDS is one of the top 10 leading causes of death for African Americans. African Americans account for more than half (54 percent) of estimated new HIV infections in the United States.

    The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that a quarter of those living with HIV, more than 250,000 do not know they are infected.

    Throughout the years, there are still so many misconceptions, myths and rumors – which may or may not be contributing to why HIV/AIDS is still such a serious issue. Are unasked questions part of what’s standing in the way of proper protection?

    1. What is HIV? Human immunodeficiency virus, or HIV, is the virus that causes AIDS. HIV/AIDS weakens a person’s ability to fight infections and cancer. HIV transmission can occur with unprotected sex or with needle sharing. Symptoms of HIV vary widely. A person may have HIV symptoms or AIDS symptoms without knowing it until they get HIV testing.

    2. What is AIDS? Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome, AIDS, is caused by HIV. A person is diagnosed with AIDS when their immune system is too weak to fight off infections. Since AIDS was first identified in the early 1980s, an unprecedented number of people have been affected by the global AIDS epidemic. Today, there are an estimated 34 million people living with HIV and AIDS worldwide.

    3. How is HIV spread? HIV transmission can occur when blood, semen, pre-seminal fluid, vaginal fluid, or breast milk from an infected person enters the body of an uninfected person.

    These are the most common ways that HIV is transmitted from one person to another:

    • By having sex (anal, vaginal, or oral) with an HIV-infected person
    • By sharing needles or equipment with an injection drug user who is infected with HIV
    • From HIV-infected women to their babies before or during birth, or through breastfeeding after birth.

    4. How long does it take for HIV to become AIDS? Scientists previously have estimated that about half the people with HIV will develop AIDS within 10 years after becoming infected. However, the length of time it takes for AIDS symptoms to appear varies greatly from person to person, and depends on many factors, including a person’s health status and behaviors. Also, advances in drug therapies and other medical treatments are dramatically changing the outlook for people with HIV. As with other diseases, early detection of infection allows for more options for treatment and preventive health care.

    5. How can I tell if I’m infected? The only way to know if you are infected is to be tested for HIV infection. You cannot rely on symptoms to know whether or not you are infected. Many people who are infected with HIV do not have any symptoms at all for many years.

    For information on where to find an HIV testing site, visit the National HIV Testing Resources web site at http://www.hivtest.org or call CDC-INFO24 Hours/Day at (800) CDC-INFO (232-4636), (888) 232-6348 (TTY).

    6. What are the most effective ways to be tested for infection? In most cases the test is performed on blood drawn from a vein. The blood is checked for the presence of antibodies to HIV. Other body fluids can also be tested to screen for HIV.

    These include:

    • Oral Fluid Tests: These tests use oral fluid (not saliva) that is collected from the mouth using a special collection device.
    • Urine Tests: These tests use urine instead of blood. The sensitivity and specificity (accuracy) of the oral and urine tests are less than that of the traditional blood tests.
    • Rapid Tests: A rapid test is a screening test that produces very quick results (approximately 20-60 minutes).
    • Home Testing Kits: In July of 2012, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved OraQuick, the first home test kit for HIV infection. Individuals can purchase the kit at stores and pharmacies and even on-line to test themselves in the privacy of their homes. Chain drugstores, including Duane Reade and CVS, carry the test for around $40.

    Departments, clinics, offices of private doctors, hospitals, and other sites set up specifically to provide HIV testing. For information on where to find an HIV testing site, visit the National HIV Testing Resources web site at http://www.hivtest.org or call CDC-INFO, (800) CDC-INFO (232-4636), (888) 232-6348 (TTY).

    8. How long after possible infection should I wait to get tested? It can take some time for the immune system to produce enough antibodies for the HIV test to detect. This time period can vary from person to person. Most people will develop detectable antibodies within two to eight weeks (the average is 20 days to 25 days). Even so, there is a chance that some people will take longer to develop detectable antibodies. If the initial negative HIV test was conducted within the first three months after possible exposure, repeat testing should be done at six months.

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