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Patient Resources from Drexel Infectious Diseases and HIV Medicine

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About HIV

About Infectious Diseases


What is HIV?

HIV stands for human immunodeficiency virus. HIV is the virus that causes acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS). AIDS is a condition in humans in which the immune system begins to fail and leads to life-threatening infections.

How does someone get HIV?

You can get HIV through

  • Unprotected vaginal, oral, or anal sex with someone who has HIV
  • Using needles for intravenous drugs, steroids, or tattoos
  • Babies can get HIV from their mothers during childbirth or by breastfeeding

What is the immune system? Why is the immune system important? What are antibodies?

The immune system is a collection of cells and substances that act as the body's defense against germs and other things that make people sick. Antibodies are substances that form in the blood when germs enter the body. Antibodies usually defend against illnesses and infections, although this is not the case with HIV antibodies.

What can I do to prevent HIV transmission?

  • Practice continuous abstinence – no vaginal, oral, or anal sex, but foreplay is OK.
  • If you have sex, use male or female condoms every time, and only use water-based lubricants. Oil-based lubes may break down condoms.
  • If you have unprotected sex or are trying to get pregnant, make sure you are having sex with only one person who is having sex with only you and that both of you are HIV negative.
  • Do not share needles or "works" for drugs, steroids, or tattoos.

Is HIV treatable?

There is no vaccine or cure for HIV, but it is treatable. Treatment can prolong life and prevent transmission to your baby or partner.

What if I am pregnant and find out I have HIV?

If you are HIV positive and you are pregnant, you can get treatment immediately to prevent transmission to your baby.

Experts recommend that all pregnant women get tested early in pregnancy and repeat the test in the third trimester.

How does the rapid HIV test work?

The rapid HIV test checks for antibodies to HIV in your body. A "preliminarily positive" result means that HIV infection is likely and a confirmatory test is needed to complete the testing. A blood sample will be necessary for the confirmatory test.

What is the "window period?"

If you have been HIV infected within the past three months, the rapid HIV test may not detect antibodies to HIV. If recent HIV infection is a possibility, a follow-up test is recommended within three months.

The information on these pages is provided for general information only and should not be used for diagnosis or treatment, or as a substitute for consultation with a physician or health care professional. If you have specific questions or concerns about your health, you should consult your health care professional.

The images being used are for illustrative purposes only; any person depicted is a model.

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