What is HIV (Human Immunodeficiency Virus)?
HIV is a virus that infects certain cells in your immune system. Your immune system helps your body fight off other infections and disease. Therefore, HIV makes it harder for your body to do this.
How do you get HIV?
- The virus can be passed from person-to-person through HIV-infected blood, semen, vaginal secretions and breast milk.
- It is most commonly spread by having unprotected sex (vaginal, anal or oral) with an infected person. The virus enters the body through the lining of the vagina, penis, rectum, or mouth during sex.
- It can also be passed through needles and syringes shared by IV drug users.
- HIV is not transmitted by casual contact (e.g., shaking hands, hugging or by touching toilet seats, telephones, drinking fountains or doorknobs).
Who can get HIV?
- Anyone (male or female) can become infected with HIV but your risk is increased if you have multiple partners, have sex without a condom or other barrier contraceptive, share IV drugs, or have another STD.
What is AIDS (Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome)?
- You can develop AIDS if enough of your immune system is damaged by HIV. Because the immune system is so weak, a person with AIDS can easily develop infections or illnesses that normally do not make the average person sick. However, these illnesses can lead to death in someone with AIDS.
How do I know if I have HIV?
- Infected people often have no symptoms and do not realize they have HIV.
- Some people get flu-like symptoms after they become infected, but these symptoms often disappear after a week or so.
- Other symptoms may not appear for years after infection, but the virus is still present, actively multiplying, and destroying the immune system.
- The only way to know for sure is to get an HIV test.
How can I be tested for HIV?
- A test involves taking a sample of your blood or oral fluid.
- If it is positive, you are extremely likely to be infected with HIV.
- If it is negative, you should be re-tested in six months. This is how long it can sometimes take for the test to become positive after infection.
Where can I get an HIV test?
- If you are in the Greater Philadelphia region, you can contact CHOP's Adolescent Medicine department at 215-590-3537 to schedule an appointment to get an HIV test.
- You can ask your doctor or healthcare provider for a testing site near you, or call the CDC National AIDS Hotline at 1-800-342-AIDS for information about places to get tested.
How do you treat HIV?
- There is no cure for HIV or AIDS. However, there are medications that can help control the virus, strengthen your immune system, and help you better fight infections and other illnesses. These medications are helping people with HIV live longer, healthier lives.
- Because there is no cure, prevention is the key to fighting HIV. You can help prevent the spread of HIV by:
- Abstaining from sex;
- Using condoms or other barrier contraceptives;
- Knowing the HIV status of your partner; and
- Avoiding IV drug use and sharing needles.
To learn about appointment times and locations with CHOP's Division of Adolescent Medicine, see appointments or call 215-590-3537.