HIV stands for human immunodeficiency virus. It weakens a person’s immune system by destroying important cells that fight disease and infection. No effective cure exists for HIV. But with proper medical care, HIV can be controlled. Some groups of people in the United States are more likely to get HIV than others because of many factors, including their sex partners, their risk behaviors, and where they live. This section will give you basic information about HIV, such as how it’s transmitted, how you can prevent it, and how to get tested for HIV.
AIDS is a disease that can develop in people with HIV. It’s the most advanced stage of HIV. But just because a person has HIV doesn’t mean they’ll develop AIDS.
A person can also be diagnosed with AIDS if they have HIV and develop an opportunistic infection or cancer that’s rare in people who don’t have HIV. An opportunistic infection, such as pneumonia, is one that takes advantage of a unique situation, such as HIV.
Untreated, HIV can progress to AIDS within a decade. There’s no cure for AIDS, and without treatment, life expectancy after diagnosis is about three years. This may be shorter if the person develops a severe opportunistic illness. However, treatment with antiretroviral drugs can prevent AIDS from developing.
If AIDS does develop, it means that the immune system is severely compromised. It’s weakened to the point where it can no longer fight off most diseases and infections. That makes the person vulnerable to a wide range of illnesses, including:
In 2017, 38,739 people received an HIV diagnosis in the United States and dependent areas.a The annual number of new diagnoses declined 9% from 2010 to 2016 in the 50 states and the District of Columbia.
The only way to know for sure whether you have HIV is to get tested. Knowing your status is important because it helps you make healthy decisions to prevent getting or transmitting HIV.
No effective cure currently exists for HIV. But with proper medical care, HIV can be controlled. Treatment for HIV is called antiretroviral therapy or ART. If people with HIV take ART as prescribed, their viral load (amount of HIV in their blood) can become undetectable. If it stays undetectable, they can live long, healthy lives and have effectively no risk of transmitting HIV to an HIV-negative partner through sex.
Only certain body fluids—blood, semen (cum), pre-seminal fluid (pre-cum), rectal fluids, vaginal fluids, and breast milk—from a person who has HIV can transmit HIV. These fluids must come in contact with a mucous membrane or damaged tissue or be directly injected into the bloodstream (from a needle or syringe) for transmission to occur. Mucous membranes are found inside the rectum, vagina, penis, and mouth.
Having anal or vaginal sex with someone who has HIV without using a condom or taking medicines to prevent or treat HIV.
Yes. In fact, anal sex is the riskiest type of sex for getting or transmitting HIV.
Yes. Either partner can get HIV through vaginal sex, though it is less risky for getting HIV than receptive anal sex.
The chance that an HIV-negative person will get HIV from oral sex with an HIV-positive partner is extremely low.
Today, more tools than ever are available to prevent HIV. You can use strategies such as abstinence (not having sex), limiting your number of sexual partners, never sharing needles, and using condoms the right way every time you have sex. You may also be able to take advantage of newer HIV prevention medicines such as pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) and post-exposure prophylaxis (PEP).
If you have HIV, there are many actions you can take to prevent transmitting it to others. The most important is taking HIV medicine (called antiretroviral therapy, or ART) as prescribed. If you take HIV medicine as prescribed and get and keep an undetectable viral load (or stay virally suppressed), you can stay healthy and have effectively no risk of transmitting HIV to an HIV-negative sex partner.