Frequently Asked Questions

What is the difference between being HIV+ and having AIDS?
When and individual tests positive for the HIV virus, it means he or she has been exposed to and contracted the HIV virus. If the virus remains undiagnosed or untreated, AIDS is a condition that will develop over a period of years once the HIV virus has significantly damaged the immune system. It can take as little as 5 and as long as 10 or 12 years to develop what is called full blown AIDS. When the individual has developed AIDS, he or she is now susceptible to certain illnesses and infections that are common among AIDS patients.

NO! This is one of the main reasons the illness is still being spread. An HIV infected individual can look and feel perfectly healthy for years before developing any symptoms associated with AIDS. The only way to find out one’s HIV status is to be tested for the HIV virus.

No. Many researchers continue to work to find a vaccine that will prevent HIV infection and treatments that may one day cure HIV. There are however, medications that can help many people infected with HIV live with the disease and dramatically prolong their lives. It is important that individuals get tested for HIV and know that they are infected early in order for medical care and treatment to have the greatest effect.

HIV is the human immunodeficiency virus. It is the virus that can lead to acquired immune deficiency syndrome, or AIDS. CDC estimates the number of new HIV infections in the United States to be about 50,000 each year. HIV damages a person’s body by destroying specific blood cells, called CD4+ T cells, which are crucial to helping the body fight diseases.

AIDS stands for Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome. Acquired – means that the disease is not hereditary but develops after birth from contact with a disease-causing agent (in this case, HIV). Immunodeficiency – means that the disease is characterized by a weakening of the immune system. Syndrome – refers to a group of symptoms that indicate or characterize a disease. In the case of AIDS, this can include the development of certain infections and/or cancers, as well as a decrease in the number of certain specific blood cells, called CD4+ T cells, which are crucial to helping the body fight disease.

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 10 years or more. The following may be warning signs of advanced HIV infection:
• rapid weight loss
• dry cough
• recurring fever or profuse night sweats
• profound and unexplained fatigue
• swollen lymph glands in the armpits, groin, or neck
• diarrhea that lasts for more than a week
• white spots or unusual blemishes on the tongue, in the mouth, or in the throat
• pneumonia
• red, brown, pink, or purplish blotches on or under the skin or inside the mouth, nose, or eyelids
• memory loss, depression, and other neurological disorders
• However, no one should assume they are infected if they have any of these symptoms. Each of these symptoms can be related to other illnesses. Again, the only way to determine whether you are infected is to be tested for HIV infection

These body fluids have been shown to contain high concentrations of HIV:

  • blood
  • semen
  • vaginal fluid
  • breast milk
  • other body fluids containing blood

The following are additional body fluids that may transmit the virus that health care workers may come into contact with:

  • fluid surrounding the brain and the spinal cord
  • fluid surrounding bone joints
  • fluid surrounding an unborn baby

Yes. Having a sexually transmitted disease (STD) can increase a person’s risk of becoming infected with HIV, whether the STD causes open sores or breaks in the skin (e.g., syphilis, herpes, chancroid) or does not cause breaks in the skin (e.g., chlamydia, gonorrhea).

No. you can NOT get HIV from shaking hands, hugging, using a toilet, drinking from the same glass, or the sneezing and coughing of an infected person. HIV is not transmitted by day-to-day contact in the workplace, schools, or social settings. HIV is not transmitted through casual contact. You cannot become infected from a toilet seat, a drinking fountain, a door knob, dishes, drinking glasses, food, or pets.  HIV is not an airborne or food-borne virus, and it does not live long outside the body. You may view and/or download “Caring for Someone with AIDS at Home.”