HIV Prevention

What is HIV?

Human Immunodeficiency Virus (also known as HIV) is the virus that causes HIV infection in humans. HIV weakens the immune system by attacking a special type of white blood cell called a “CD4” cell. Over time, HIV destroys so many of these cells that the body cannot fight off infections and diseases. While there is no cure for HIV infection, antiretroviral therapy (ART) can control it.

Stages of HIV Infection:

  • Stage 1: CD4 count > 500 cells/ml
  • Stage 2: CD4 count 200-499 cells/ml
  • Stage 3 (AIDS): CD4 count < 200 cells/ml

Stage 3, also known as Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome (AIDS), is the final and most serious stage of HIV infection. A person can have HIV without having AIDS.

How is HIV transmitted?

HIV is spread through contact with certain body fluids from a person infected with HIV, including:

  • Blood
  • Semen
  • Pre-seminal fluids
  • Rectal fluids
  • Vaginal fluids
  • Breast milk

The spread of HIV from person to person is called HIV transmission. In the United States, HIV is spread mainly by:

  • Having sex (vaginal and/or anal) with someone who has HIV
  • Sharing injection drug equipment, such as needles, with someone who has HIV

HIV can also be transmitted from an HIV-infected woman to her child during pregnancy, childbirth (labor and delivery), or breastfeeding. This is known as mother-to-child transmission of HIV.

Is it possible to get HIV through blood transfusion or organ transplant?

In the past, some people were infected with HIV after receiving a blood transfusion or organ transplant from an HIV-infected donor. Today, this risk is very low because the supply of donated blood and organs is carefully tested in the United States.

What are common misconceptions about HIV transmission?

  • You can’t get HIV by shaking hands with, hugging, or closed-mouth kissing a person infected with HIV.
  • You can’t get HIV from contact with objects such as toilet seats, doorknobs, or dishes used by a person infected with HIV.
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