HIV 101: What Is HIV?

HIV 101: What Is HIV?

HIV/AIDS has been around for 30 years, but many of us still don't know the basics. Here's a quick primer on the most FAQ.

Published December 8, 2011



OK, so HIV/AIDS has been around for 30 years, yet too many of us don't know what we need to know about the epidemic. Our special HIV/AIDS 101 series for will provide a range of information about this disease that everyone can understand. 
Today's "class" will answer the question, "What is HIV?"     

What does HIV stand for?

HIV stands for "human immunodeficiency virus."


How Do You Get HIV?
HIV travels through certain fluids — blood, semen, vaginal secretions and breast milk. You can contract HIV through unprotected vaginal and/or anal sex, by sharing needles or other equipment used to inject drugs, blood transfusions with blood that is infected with HIV (in the U.S. there is a only a very tiny chance that will happen) and by an HIV-positive mother breastfeeding her baby.    

These specific fluids must come in contact with a mucous membrane or damaged tissue or be directly injected into the blood stream (from a needle or syringe) for transmission to possibly occur. For example, sometimes women may have vaginal tearing from intercourse. These tears, however microscopic, are open and, in many instances, become the gateways for how women become infected with HIV.

It’s also possible that a pregnant woman with HIV can pass along the virus to her baby — but with medicine and proper prenatal care, along with HIV testing of pregnant woman, these rates have gone down in the United States.

Who Gets HIV?
Anyone can contract HIV: You, your mama, your grandpa, the nice looking married lady at church. This disease is not just a gay disease, a sex worker disease, an IV drug user disease or a promiscuous person's disease. HIV is a disease that impacts ALL OF US. We are all at risk.
Remember: It's what you do, not who you are, that puts you at risk for HIV.

How Long Does It Take to See Symptoms of HIV?

It depends on the person. Some people can be living with HIV for up to 10 years and not really show signs, some may see signs within five years, and some have symptoms shortly after being infected.

But knowing your status shouldn't be based on possible symptoms — everyone needs to be tested regardless, and annually. An HIV test is the only real way to know whether or not you are infected.

Is HIV a Death Sentence?
In this day and age, it doesn't have to be. Thanks to modern medicine, the life expectancy for people living with HIV/AIDS has risen dramatically. Experts believe that people who are in treatment can live well past their 60s — a little less than those who do not have HIV.

So if you keep your CD4 count up and your viral load down by taking your meds every day, there is a very good chance that you could live as long as anyone else who doesn’t have HIV/AIDS.

But it's important to know that people still die of AIDS. An estimated 18,000 Americans die of AIDS each year. Some of these people do not have access to their medications because they cannot afford them, some grew resistant to the medications and have run out of regimens, some stop taking their medicines altogether, or do not take their medicine regularly.

BET Health News - We go beyond the music and entertainment world to bring you important medical information and health-related tips of special relevance to Blacks in the U.S. and around the world.

(Photo: RODGER BOSCH/AFP/Getty Images)

Written by Kellee Terrell


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