HIV 101

HIV stands for Human Immunodeficiency Virus.  HIV is a virus that attacks particular cells in the immune system, leaving it vulnerable to many life-threatening infections and cancers.  When HIV has weakened the immune system so much only 200 or less CD4 + T cells remain in a person’s body, they are diagnosed with having AIDS.

AIDS stands for Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome.  It is the name for the condition caused by HIV.  People diagnosed with AIDS normally develop at least one of the many serious infections connected with HIV.

You may have been exposed to HIV if you have come in direct contact with one or more of the following body fluids:

  • Blood
  • Semen (including pre-ejaculate fluids)
  • Vaginal Fluids
  • Anal Fluids
  • Breast Milk

HIV transmission is most commonly associated with the following activities:

  • Unprotected oral, vaginal, or anal sex
  • Sharing needles or injection equipment
  • Mother-to-child transmission through pregnancy, birth, or breastfeeding

You can reduce the likeliness of HIV exposure and chance of infection by one or all of the following:

  • Properly using condoms (latex, polyurethane, or female condoms) each time you have intercourse from beginning to end
  • Discussing HIV status and prior testing behavior  with your sexual partners
  • Limiting the number of your sexual partners
  • Avoid using alcohol or other substances before sex as these can influence decision making and your ability to practice safer sex
  • Not sharing needles or other equipment for injection

What is the “Window Period”?

  • When a person becomes infected with HIV, the body takes time to develop enough antibodies to show up on an HIV antibody test. This period of time when people are infected with HIV but do not yet have enough antibodies to show up on the test, is called the “window period.”
  • People with HIV usually develop detectable antibodies between 2 weeks and 6 months after exposure with many people developing enough antibodies by 3 months (12 weeks)

What is PrEP?

  • PrEP, or Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis, is an approach for HIV prevention where individuals take anti-HIV medication to reduce their risk of infection. When taken on a consistent basis, PrEP has shown to reduce risk of HIV infection for people who may be at high risk up to 92%. It is another tool that can people can choose to add to what they may already be doing to protect themselves from HIV. For more information on what PrEP is visit: prepfacts.org and whatisprep.org
  • PrEP is still fairly new and has yet to become widely available and accessible in Santa Clara County, but you can visit the San Francisco City Clinic website (http://www.sfcityclinic.org/services/prep.asp) to learn more about current programs to provide it in the wider Bay Area.