What is HIV/AIDS?

The human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) is a slowly replicating retrovirus that attacks certain cells in your immune system, your body’s defense system against infections and diseases. HIV causes the acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS), a progressive disease of the immune system that allows infections and cancers to thrive.

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.

HIV is spread person-to-person through 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.

HIV 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).

Anyone can become infected with HIV, but your risk is increased if you:

  • Have sex with multiple partners
  • Have sex without a condom or other barrier contraceptive
  • Share IV drugs
  • Have another sexually transmitted disease (STD)

Signs and symptoms

HIV-infected people often have no symptoms early in the disease progression. Most do not realize they have HIV, yet the virus is present, actively multiplying, and destroying the immune system.

Other people may experience some early symptoms of HIV infection, including:

  • Fever
  • Sore throat
  • Fatigue
  • Headache
  • Swollen glands
  • Muscle and joint pains
  • Rash

Symptoms can last from a few days to several weeks. Because most of these symptoms can be caused by other illnesses, it is important to be aware of any potential exposure you may have had to HIV and to be tested regularly.

If you have HIV and are not actively treating it, new symptoms may indicate your condition is worsening and transiting from HIV to AIDS.

Symptoms of late-stage HIV and AIDs may include:

  • Rapid weight loss
  • Extreme tiredness
  • Pneumonia
  • Recurring fever
  • Sores of the mouth, genitals or anus
  • Chronic diarrhea
  • Swelling of the lymph glands in the armpits, neck and groin
  • Depression, memory loss and other neurological conditions
  • Colored blotches on or under the skin or inside the mouth, nose and eyelids

Testing and diagnosis

The only way to know for sure if you have HIV is to get an HIV test.

HIV testing is CONFIDENTIAL. That means anything you discuss with a healthcare profession in an examination room is private — including your test results.

You have some choices about what kind of test you use. We have two tests that include just a swab in the mouth — no needles and no blood:

  • Oral Standard HIV Test — results come back in two weeks (requires a second appointment).
  • Oral Rapid HIV Test — results come back in 20 minutes.

In most cases, we recommend rapid HIV testing. This way, we can quickly learn your results and if a positive test result is identified, we can immediately get you connected to an appropriate HIV specialty care clinic.

Setting up an appointment

If you believe you are at risk for HIV, please contact us by:

  • Calling the health educator at 1-877-423-TEENS (8336) to schedule an appointment.
  • Calling 1-800-985-AIDS (2437) if none of the testing times and dates are convenient.


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
  • Avoiding IV drug use and sharing needles

Next Steps