Basics about HIV/AIDS

HIV stands for Human Immunodeficiency Virus

  • Human: HIV only affects humans—not animals.
  • Immunodeficiency: immune system fails to fight off disease and infection.
  • Virus: an organism that can only survive by “taking over” other cells so it can reproduce and spread throughout the body—much like the common cold, influenza, and chicken pox.
  • HIV is the virus that causes Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome (AIDS).
  • A person can be HIV positive without having AIDS.

AIDS stands for Acquired Immuno-Deficiency Syndrome

  • Acquired: gotten through exposure to HIV—not genetic.
  • Immuno: relates to the immune system—the cells and molecules that fight off infection and illness.
  • Deficiency: something that is lacking—in this case, the immune system.
  • Syndrome: collection of symptoms and signs of disease—AIDS is not a single disease, but a collection of many different physical ailments.
  • AIDS is considered the last stage of HIV.
  • HIV enters the body and attacks a special type of white blood cell called a “CD4” cell.
  • CD4 cells protect your body from infection by warning the immune system of intruders.
  • HIV attacks and destroys CD4 cells causing the body to become vulnerable to illness and disease.
  • HIV can be spread through contact with an infected persons:
    • Blood
    • Semen
    • Pre-seminal fluids
    • Rectal fluids
    • Vaginal fluids
    • Breast milk
  • This means that you can contract or give HIV through sexual intercourse, from your mother during birth or breastfeeding, or through exposure to blood—such as using injection drugs or blood transfusions. Blood is now screened for HIV, so the risk of contracting HIV from a blood transfusion is minimal.

Preventing HIV

Even though every sexually active person of intravenous drug user is at risk for contracting HIV, there are a few populations that are more vulnerable.

  • Gay, bisexual, and other men that have sex with men (MSM)
    • While men who have sex with men make up just 2% of the U.S. population, they account for 66% of new HIV infections, 56% of total people living with HIV, and 55% of all AIDS related deaths since the beginning of the HIV epidemic.1
    • An estimated 12-13% of MSM in the U.S. are HIV positive.1
    • The CDC estimates that 18% of gay and bisexual men with HIV are unaware of their status.1
  • African Americans
    • Both African American men and women bear the greatest burden of HIV infections throughout the United States.1
    • Among all African Americans diagnosed with HIV in 2014, an estimated 73% were men and 26% were women.1
    • African Americans represent 12% of the U.S. population, but account for 44% of new HIV infections as of 2014.2
    • From 2005 to 2014, the number of new HIV diagnoses among African American gay and bisexual men increased 22%. But that number steadied in recent years, increasing less than 1% since 2010.1
  • Intravenous Drug Users (IDUs)
    • Ten percent of HIV infections globally are attributed to intravenous drug use.3
    • In the United States, IDUs account for almost 7% of HIV infections.2
    • At the end of 2012, 5% of males living with HIV and 9% of females living with HIV were IDUs.2


  • Using condoms
    • Consistent and proper use of condoms have been proven to reduce your chance of contracting and transmitting HIV.
  • Lifestyle Changes
    • Changes would include limiting risky sexual behavior, seeking treatment for drug use, or only using clean intravenous drug paraphernalia.
  • Taking PrEP Medicine
    • PrEP stands for Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis and is a method of prevention for those who may be at high risk of getting HIV.
    • PrEP is a pill you take daily composed of the same medicine people who already have HIV take to stay healthy.
    • When combined with condom use and other prevention methods, PrEP provides a higher level of protection against HIV than using other prevention methods alone.
    • If you think you may have an increased risk of getting HIV, visit the following links or speak to a provider:
  • Taking PEP Medicine
    • PEP stands for Post-Exposure Prophylaxis. This means that this is used to prevent HIV after an exposure may have happened. There are two types of PEP based on what type of exposure you experienced:
      • If you are a healthcare worker, you may be evaluated for PEP if exposed to bodily fluids during care or HIV during a needle stick.
      • If you have been exposed to HIV during a single event, unrelated to work, such as unprotected sex, sexual assault, or needle sharing, you can also use PEP.
    • PEP must be initiated within 3 days of exposure, so you must contact a provider immediately.
    • For more information on Post-Exposure Prophylaxis, please see CDC's Basics of PEP.

Testing for HIV

It is good to know your status whether or not you may be at risk for contracting HIV. However, if you think you may have contracted HIV recently, visit our Testing Locations page to find a location nearby.

The CDC recommends that people get tested at least once a year for HIV. If you fall into a high risk category, you may want to get tested every 3 to 6 months.

  • People who fall into the high risk behavior category include:
    • Men who have sex with men (MSM)
    • People who use drugs intravenously (IV) and share unclean needles or other drug paraphernalia
    • People who have a history of sexually transmitted diseases (STDs)
    • People who have ever had sex without a condom or other method of protection

CDC also recommends screening all pregnant women for HIV as early as possible in the first trimester and a second HIV test during the third trimester, preferably <36 weeks of gestation (using a test that detects recent HIV infection) for women whose earlier HIV test was negative.

Some physicians recommend having an HIV test every time you have a physical checkup.


  • There are state laws that require a diagnosis of HIV or AIDS be reported to the state health agency. In Georgia, name-based reporting has been mandated since 2004.
  • Only those at the state-level will have access to your personal identification. Once arriving at the state health department, all personal information is removed before being sent to the CDC.
  • This is done to better track the disease and prevent further cases from happening.
  • Some testing centers offer confidential or anonymous testing.
    • Confidential testing: the test results have a direct link to your identity and may be shared between health care providers—Federal and State privacy laws protect these results.
    • Anonymous testing: the test results have no direct link to your identity.

Information for Newly Diagnosed Individuals

  • Don’t Panic!
    • Since the development of Highly Active Anti-Retroviral Therapy (HAART) in the 90s, the number of AIDS deaths has decreased dramatically, allowing people with HIV to live longer and healthier lives.
  • Take some time and write a list of all the questions you may have.
  • Begin to think of who you would like to tell.
    • Telling someone not only relieves the burden of not telling, but also opens up several ways to establish support systems and pathways to ultimately live a happy and healthy life.
  • Find a trusted physician whom you would be comfortable going to for treatment
  • Find Community Organizations to help you with other needs you may have including:
    • Transitional Housing/Shelter
    • Housing Assistance
    • Case Management
    • Mental Health and Counseling
    • Living a Healthy Lifestyle
    • Support Groups
    • Furniture/Clothing Resources

    You can find information on the following services by searching through the CAPUS Resource Directory.

  • Reduce your risk of transmitting HIV to others.
    • You should use a condom for any future sexual encounters.
    • Do not share any used drug paraphernalia.
    • If you are in a discordant relationship (one is positive and the other is negative), look into using PrEP.
    • Always consider safer sex, safer drug use, and seek out resources to help with these.
    • For more information, see our section on HIV Prevention

Information For Those Living With HIV

If you live in the Atlanta metro area, below is a tool to locate resources in the Atlanta area for people living with HIV:
Download the AAOI Resource Book

Viral Hepatitis means inflammation of the liver caused by a virus. The most common causes of viral hepatitis in the United States are hepatitis A virus (HAV), hepatitis B virus (HBV), and hepatitis C virus (HCV). Hepatitis A is typically caused by consumption of contaminated food or water. Those most at risk for Hepatitis A include travelers to countries with poor sanitation systems and person to person contact with an infected person. Hepatitis B and C are considered chronic conditions that can lead to severe liver damage. Nearly 5.3 million people in the United States are infected with chronic Hepatitis B or Hepatitis C infection. Despite this, viral hepatitis is a silent disease, and many that are at risk for viral hepatitis are unaware of their risk and unaware of being infected until many years later. Chronic Hepatitis B and C can lead to severe complications, such as liver cirrhosis, liver cancer, and in some cases, death. Hepatitis B and Hepatitis C are the leading cause of liver cancer and liver transplants in the U.S.

Those living with HIV are at greater risk for HBV and HCV due to the nature of transmission. Hepatitis B and C can also lead to chronic hepatitis infections. Hepatitis B and C are most common among people who are living or at risk for HIV.

Hepatitis B is transmitted through sexual contact and/or blood exposure – the same way that HIV is transmitted. Most Hepatitis B infections in the U.S. are sexually transmitted. There IS a vaccination available to prevent Hepatitis B. Most children are now vaccinated against Hepatitis B as infants; however, many adults still remain unvaccinated and can become infected with Hepatitis B virus.

For more information on hepatitis B, visit:

Hepatitis C is transmitted through exposure to infected blood. Approximately 80% of those infected with Hepatitis C will develop a chronic (lifelong) Hepatitis C infection, which may lead to liver disease and liver cancer. The most common means of transmission is through direct passage through the skin. Approximately 1 in 3 people infected with HIV is also infected with Hepatitis C. In fact, deaths related to Hepatitis C now surpass deaths related to HIV.

Typically, Hepatitis C is a slowly progressing disease – it can take as many as 20 to 30 years for someone to feel complications. However, when combined with HIV infection, Hepatitis C progresses at a much faster rate, increasing the rate of Hepatitis C-related liver disease, liver cancer, and mortality (death)..

For more information on Hepatitis C, visit:

If you are infected with Hepatitis C and have questions, call the peer-led hotline to talk with trained peer counselors at 1-877-HELP-4-HEP or you can visit the Help-4-Hep Web site.

Tuberculosis (TB) is an airborne disease that primarily affects the lungs. TB bacteria are spread from one person to the next when an infected person coughs, sneezes, speaks, or sings. There are two TB related conditions: latent TB infection and TB disease. Latent TB infection lives in the body without causing the person to become sick. People with Latent TB may not experience symptoms and cannot spread TB germs to another person. If these TB bacteria ever become active in the body and multiply, the person will become sick with TB disease.

For people with weak immune systems, such as those diagnosed with HIV, the risk of developing TB disease is much higher. To date, Tuberculosis (TB) remains the most common opportunistic infection and the top cause of death for patients diagnosed with AIDS. Due to serious health risks of co-infection, the CDC recommends that all HIV positive people get tested for TB annually.

For more information on Tuberculosis, visit:
Tuberculosis: Getting Healthy, Staying Healthy- National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease Living with Tuberculosis-American Lung Association

Sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) or sexually transmitted infections (STIs) refer to many different bacteria, viruses, and even parasites that spread primarily from one person to another during sexual activity. In some cases, infections are passed from mother to child during pregnancy and childbirth, through blood transfusions, or through needle sharing. There are many kinds of sexually transmitted infections and diseases. Not all STDs cause symptom; many go unnoticed until complications occur or a partner is diagnosed.

The most common STDs/STIs include:

  • Chlamydia
  • Gonorrhea
  • Syphilis
  • Herpes
  • Trichomoniasis
  • Hepatitis
  • Human Papillomavirus (HPV)
  • Pelvic Inflammatory Disease (PID)
  • Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV)

STDs can also be more severe for people infected with HIV. Treatment for an STD other than HIV does not prevent the spread of HIV from one person to another. In the United States, those regularly infected with syphilis, gonorrhea, and herpes may also have HIV and are more likely to have HIV in the future. Behaviors that place an individual at risk for one STD (not using condoms, multiple partners, anonymous partners) also place them at risk for others. Similarly, having HIV places one at risk for co-infections with other sexually transmitted diseases. Those with HIV are encouraged to remain in treatment and speak with your care team about STD testing and treatment.

Where to Get Tested Map

Opportunistic infections (OIs) are infections that take advantage of person’s already weakened immune system. Although less common today than in the early days of HIV/AIDS, opportunistic infections still pose a great risk for undiagnosed individuals and those not in treatment. If a person living with HIV is diagnosed with an HIV-related OI, he or she will also be diagnosed with AIDS. Symptoms and treatment vary by disease; it is important that you speak with your healthcare provider to prevent them or seek early treatment. The best ways to prevent OIs are to stay in medical care and manage your medications.

For more information on Opportunistic Infections, visit the following sites:
CDC Most Common Opportunistic Infections - Information on Opportunistic Infections - Opportunistic Infections and Their Relationship to HIV/AIDS

  • The Facts
    • There are several transmission routes for transferring HIV from mother to baby.
    • Mother to child transmission can occur during pregnancy, childbirth, or breastfeeding.
    • Perinatal HIV transmission accounted for an estimated 73% of HIV diagnoses in children.
    • By the end of 2013, an estimated 1,999 children were living with perinatal HIV: 1,298 (65%) were black/African American, 312 (16%) were Hispanic/Latino, and 212 (11%) were white.
    • HIV testing and preventive interventions are needed to prevent perinatal transmission and prevent negative health outcomes for pregnant and parenting women.
  • Strategies recommended by the CDC:
    • All pregnant women should be screened for HIV as early as possible during each pregnancy.
    • Women with HIV who take Anti-Retroviral medication during pregnancy as recommended can reduce the risk of transmitting HIV to their babies to less than 1%.
    • HIV medical care providers should routinely provide preconception care or family planning services to their patients with HIV, which may result in unintended pregnancies.
    • Early prenatal care, prenatal HIV testing, and prenatal Anti-Retroviral medication to improve their own health and reduce the risk of transmitting HIV to their infant.
    • Routine, opt-out HIV testing for all persons aged 13–64 years in health care settings, including women during every pregnancy.
  • For Pregnant Women:
    • If you are currently pregnant and close to delivery:
      • Talk with your provider about the appropriate testing and treatments or contact the Department of Public Health HIV Office at 404-657-3100.
  • Postpartum Mothers/Caregivers:
    • If you have had a baby within the last 12 months or are a caregiver of an HIV exposed infant less than 12 months old, you qualify to participate in the Georgia FIMR/HIV Initiative:
      • Talk with your provider about the appropriate testing and treatments or contact the Department of Public Health HIV Office at 404-657-3100.

Helpful Websites

Federal AgenciesWebsite
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)
Health Resources Services Administration (HRSA)
National Institutes of Health (NIH)
Department of Health & Human Services (HHS),
Office of Population Affairs
Local and National OrganizationsWebsite
American College of Obstetricians & Gynecologists
Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation
  • The Facts
    • Housing, employment, and education are three major factors that affect a person’s projected HIV diagnosis.
    • Housing is a key component of successful HIV/AIDS care because it provides a place to store food and medication, stable place to rest, clean water supply, protection from environmental factors, and safe living conditions.
    • HIV and being homeless can be complex contributors of one another—meaning homeless populations are highly susceptible to HIV and HIV infected individuals may struggle with housing.
    • Homeless HIV positive men and women face many barriers to health care, including lack of insurance, comprehensive health services and awareness of services and resources available.
    • An HIV positive homeless person may encounter other medical conditions associated with their living conditions and/or HIV.
    • High-risk behavior such as injection drug use and unprotected sex also complicate HIV care and transmission reduction among homeless populations.
  • Strategies
    • Make affordable housing available to all persons with HIV.
    • Make housing assistance a top HIV prevention priority.
    • Incorporate housing as a critical element of HIV health care.
    • Continue to collect the data needed to inform HIV housing policy.
  • Helpful Websites
  • Downloadable PDF documents:


Source: CDC, WHO, NIH,