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    Frequently Asked Questions About HIV/AIDS

    • How is HIV passed from one person to another?
    • Answer:

      HIV transmission can occur when blood, semen, pre-seminal fluid, vaginal fluid, or breast milk from an infected person enters the body of an uninfected person.

      These are the most common ways that HIV is transmitted from one person to another:

      • By having sex (anal, vaginal, or oral) with an HIV-infected person
      • By sharing needles or equipment with an injection drug user who is infected with HIV
      • From HIV-infected women to their babies before or during birth, or through breastfeeding after birth.

    • How effective are latex condoms in preventing HIV?
    • Answer:

      Latex condoms, when used consistently and correctly, are highly effective in preventing heterosexual sexual transmission of HIV. It should be noted that condom use cannot provide absolute protection against HIV. The surest way to avoid transmission of HIV is to abstain from sexual intercourse or to be in a long-term, mutually monogamous relationship with a partner who has been tested and whom you know is uninfected.

    • Can I get HIV from oral sex?
    • Answer:

      Yes, it is possible for either partner to become infected with HIV through performing or receiving oral sex. While no one knows exactly what the degree of risk is, evidence suggests that the risk is less than that of unprotected anal or vaginal sex.

      Studies have shown that latex condoms are very effective, though not perfect, in preventing HIV transmission when used correctly and consistently. If either partner is allergic to latex, plastic (polyurethane) condoms for either the male or female can be used.

      If your partner is female, use a latex barrier (such as a natural rubber latex sheet, a dental dam, or a cut-open condom that makes a square) between your mouth and the vagina. A latex barrier such as a dental dam reduces the risk of blood or vaginal fluids entering your mouth. Plastic food wrap also can be used as a barrier.

    • Can I get HIV from anal sex?
    • Answer:

      Yes. In fact, unprotected (without a condom) anal sex (intercourse) is considered to be very risky behavior. It is possible for either sex partner to become infected with HIV during anal sex.

      Not having (abstaining from) sex is the most effective way to avoid HIV. If people choose to have anal sex, they should use a latex condom. Most of the time, condoms work well. However, condoms are more likely to break during anal sex than during vaginal sex. Thus, even with a condom, anal sex can be risky. A person should use generous amounts of water-based lubricant in addition to the condom to reduce the chances of the condom breaking.

    • Why does the CDC recommend HIV screening for all pregnant women?
    • Answer:

      If a mother is HIV-positive during pregnancy, HIV treatment can improve her overall health and can greatly lower the chance of passing HIV to her infant before, during, or after birth. The treatment is most effective when started as early as possible during pregnancy.

    • How long does it take for HIV to cause AIDS?
    • Answer:

      Scientists previously have estimated that about half the people with HIV will develop AIDS within 10 years after becoming infected. However, the length of time it takes for AIDS symptoms to appear varies greatly from person to person, and depends on many factors, including a person's health status and behaviors. Also, advances in drug therapies and other medical treatments are dramatically changing the outlook for people with HIV. As with other diseases, early detection of infection allows for more options for treatment and preventive health care.

    • How can I tell if I’m infected with HIV? What are the symptoms?
    • Answer:

      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 many years.

    • What HIV screening tests are available?
    • Answer:

      In most cases the test is performed on blood drawn from a vein. The blood is checked for the presence of antibodies to HIV. Other body fluids can also be tested to screen for HIV. These include:

      • Oral Fluid Tests. These tests use oral fluid (not saliva) that is collected from the mouth using a special collection device.
      • Urine Tests. These tests use urine instead of blood.

      The sensitivity and specificity (accuracy) of the oral and urine tests are less than that of the traditional blood tests. Several blood tests being used more commonly detect both antibodies and antigen (part of the virus itself), which can find HIV as soon as 3 weeks after exposure.

      Rapid Tests: A rapid test is a screening test that produces very quick results (approximately 20-60 minutes).

      Home Testing Kits: The Home Access HIV-1 Test System can be found at most local drug stores. It is not a true home test, but a home collection kit. The testing procedure involves pricking a finger with a special device, placing drops of blood on a specially treated card, and then mailing the card in to be tested at a licensed lab.

      If any of these tests is positive, follow-up diagnostic testing is always done to confirm the results.

    • Where can I get tested for HIV?
    • Answer:

      Many places provide testing for HIV infection. Common testing locations include local health departments, clinics, offices of private doctors, hospitals, and other sites set up specifically to provide HIV testing. For information on where to find an HIV testing site, visit the National HIV Testing Resources web site at or call CDC-INFO, (800-232-4636) or 888-232-6348 (TTY).

    • How long after a possible exposure should I wait to get tested for HIV?
    • Answer:

      It can take some time for the immune system to produce enough antibodies for the HIV test to detect. This time period can vary from person to person. Most people will develop detectable antibodies within two to eight weeks (the average is 20 days to 25 days) of exposure. Even so, there is a chance that some people will take longer to develop detectable antibodies. If the initial negative HIV test was conducted within the first three months after possible exposure, repeat testing should be done at six months.

    • What if I test positive for HIV?
    • Answer:

      If you test positive for HIV, the sooner you take steps to protect your health, the better. Early medical treatment and a healthy lifestyle can help you stay well. Prompt medical care may delay the onset of AIDS and prevent some life-threatening conditions. It is very important to take your HIV medicines exactly as directed. We have better treatments today, and people are living longer and with a better quality of life than ever before. There is much you can do to stay healthy and protect others. Learn all that you can about maintaining good health.

    WebMD Medical Reference

    Reviewed by Jennifer Robinson, MD on October 28, 2014

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