redribbonhivWhat is HIV/AIDS?

HIV and AIDS are defined differently; HIV is the virus that causes AIDS and AIDS is the most advanced stage of infection caused by HIV.

HIV stands for Human Immunodeficiency Virus; HIV attacks a person’s immune system which is defends the human body against infections like bacteria and viruses. Once attacked by HIV, the immune system becomes less able to defend the body and does not work properly. A person who has HIV is said to be “HIV positive” (HIV+). Once a person is HIV positive, that person will remain HIV+.

HIV takes over certain immune system cells in the body that defend the body, these cells are called CD4 cells, or T cells. When HIV takes over a CD4 cell, it turns the cell into a factory by forcing the cell to produce thousands of copies of the virus. These copies then go on to infect other CD4 cells resulting in a weakened immune system making it harder for the body to stay healthy.

AIDS stands for Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome and, as stated above, is the most advanced stage of infection caused by HIV. Most people who are HIV+ do not have AIDS unless his or her immune system becomes so weak that it can’t fight off certain kinds of infections and cancers. PCP (a type of pneumonia), Kaposi sarcoma (a type of cancer that affects the skin and internal organs), wasting syndrome (involuntary weight loss), memory impairment, or tuberculosis are examples of infections and cancers.

An HIV positive person is diagnosed with AIDS if the immune system weakens. Specifically, if the number of CD4 cells in the blood count less than 200, a diagnosis of AIDS is given. It can take between two to 10 years, or longer, for an HIV+ person to develop AIDS if left untreated. Most people with HIV will not develop AIDS if treatment is started soon after becoming infected. If diagnosed with AIDS, a person will be considered to have AIDS even if the person’s CD4 count increases and/or they recover from the disease.

HIV is spread mostly through four body fluids: Semen, vaginal fluid, blood, and breast milk. HIV is NOT spread through tears, sweat, feces, and urine. HIV infection can result from unprotected sexual contact with someone who is HIV+ including vaginal sex, anal sex, and oral sex. A person cannot get HIV from hugging/massage, masturbation, fantasizing, dry kissing, phone sex, cyber sex, unshared sex toys, and daily living with someone who has HIV.

HIV infection through blood can occur by sharing needles, getting tattoos or body piercings using unsterilized needles, accidental needle sticks, blood transfusions, or splashing blood into the eyes. HIV is not spread by blood passed through insect bites. Finally, HIV can be passed from HIV+ pregnant women to their babies in the womb, during birth, and in the early months after birth through breast milk.

Facts About HIV/AIDS
  • More than 1.2 million people living in the U.S. are living with HIV, 1 in 8 do not know it
  • From 2005 to 2014, the annual number of new HIV diagnoses declined 19%
  • Gay and bisexual men, particularly young African American gay and bisexual men, are most affected
  • in 2011, nationally, 25,271 HIV+ Veterans in VA care; locally, VA NorCal’s service network had over 1,000 Veterans in care
  • Between 2007 and 2011, the VA saw a 3.8% increase in the number of HIV+ Veterans in care
  • A majority of HIV+ Veterans are men (97%); however, the VA provides care for a significant number of Women Veterans
  • The most common conditions requiring chronic care in the Veteran HIV populations were depression, hypertension, dyslipidemias, anemia, neuroses/anxiety disorders, chronic Hep C infection, esophageal disease, and diabetes
  • Other important clinical conditions affecting HIV care included post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), Hep B infection, ischemic heart disease, and chronic renal failure

Symptoms & Stages

Symptoms can be different for each person, there may no symptoms or strong symptoms. If may feel the cold or the flu; symptoms can include, fever, headache, sore throat, swollen lymph nodes (usually on the neck), fatigue, rash, and/or sores in the mouth. If symptoms appear, they usually do so within days or weeks after infection, and end after one to two weeks. The only way to know for sure is to get tested.

There are three stages of HIV infection which, if left untreated, can destroy the immune system eventually causing AIDS.

Stage 1: Acute HIV Infection (Within 2 to 4 weeks after infection)

Some people will have flu-like symptoms like fever, chills, rash, night sweats, muscle aches, sore throat, fatigue, swollen lymph nodes, and mouth ulcers. In this stage, HIV multiplies rapidly and spreads throughout the body. The virus attacks and destroys the CD4 cells. The risk of transmitting the virus is the greatest during this stage.

Stage 2: Chronic HIV Infection (AKA Asymptomatic HIV infection or clinical latency)

During this stage, the virus continues to multiply in the body but at very low levels. A person in this stage may not have any HIV-related symptoms but can still spread the virus to others. Without treatment, this stage usually advances to AIDS in 10 years or longer, though it may take less time for some people.

Stage 3: AIDS

This is the final stage of HIV infection; the virus has severely damaged the immune system and the body cannot fight of opportunistic infections. AIDS is diagnosed when the CD4 count is less than 200 cells/mm3, they have one or more opportunistic infections, or both. Without treatment, people with AIDS typically survive about three years. Symptoms can include:

  • Rapid weight loss
  • Recurring fever and profuse night sweats
  • Extreme and unexplained tiredness
  • Prolonged swelling of the lymph nodes in the armpits, groin, or neck
  • Diarrhea that last more than a week
  • Sores of the mouth, anus, or genitals
  • Pneumonia
  • Red, brown, pink, or purplish blotches o or under the skin or inside the mouth, nose, or eyelids
  • Memory loss, depression, and other neurologic disorders

If You Think You Have Or Do Have HIV, You’re Not Alone

The only way to tell if you have HIV is to get tested. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Veterans Health Administration (VHA) recommend that all adults be test at least once in their lifetime regardless of whether they are at high risk for infection. You may be at an above-average risk of HIV if any of the following conditions apply:

  • Having sex without a condom or latex barrier
  • Having sex with someone who is HIV+
  • Having sex with someone who has used injection drugs
  • Having sex with men who have sex with other men
  • If you’ve ever had a sexually transmitted disease (STD) like herpes, chlamydia, gonorrhea, trichomoniasis, or hepatitis
  • If you have ever been sexually assaulted (raped, or forces or talked into having sex when you didn’t want to)
  • If you have ever passed out or forgotten what happened after you were drinking or getting high
  • If you have ever shared needles or other equipment to inject drugs or pierce the skin, like tattoo needles
  • If you have ever used methamphetamines
  • If you have ever received a blood transfusion (Risk is low in the U.S. but can vary in other countries)
  • If your mother had HIV when you were born or died of AIDS

If you think you may be at risk or may have contracted HIV, you can request an HIV test at your local VA medical center. Note that HIV test results will be inputted into your medical record, they’re kept confidential but are not anonymous. Find the locations of Northern California VA sites here…

If you wish to remain anonymous, there are a number of local resources you can go to for an HIV test including the following:


VA HIV/AIDS Site: The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) leads the country in HIV/AIDS screening, testing, treatment, research and prevention. This site provides information both for health care providers and for Veterans and the public. (Becoming in Spring 2017)An information gateway to guide users to Federal domestic HIV/AIDS information and resources managed by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

AIDSinfo: An official U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) site featuring treatment guidelines, information on clinical trials and treatment issues, and links to U.S. government HIV/AIDS resources. AIDSinfo is the result of a merger of two previous DHHS projects–the HIV/AIDS Treatment Information Service (ATIS) and the AIDS Clinical Trials Information Service (ACTIS).

aidsmapA site from the UK featuring a large database of HIV prevention and treatment information for a general audience, as well as a searchable global HIV/AIDS resource directory. Produced by the National AIDS Manual (NAM Publications) in collaboration with the British HIV Association and the International HIV/AIDS Alliance.

The BodyCommunity-oriented commercial site with information on prevention and treatment, coverage of major HIV/AIDS conferences, online community discussion threads, and an extensive ask-the-experts feature. Also maintains a companion site, The Body Pro, with information for health care providers.

Center for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC)The site of the Division of HIV/AIDS Prevention of the CDC’s National Center for HIV, STD and TB Prevention includes recommendations, guidelines, fact sheets, FAQs, statistics, and materials for prevention and research partners. CDC also maintains the National Prevention Information Network (CDC NPIN), which features a daily Prevention News Update, reference materials, referral and distribution services for information on HIV/AIDS, sexually transmitted diseases, and tuberculosis; as well as the CDC Global AIDS Program.

HealthHIV: A national non-profit working with organizations, communities, and health care providers to advance effective prevention, care, and support for people living with, or at risk for, HIV and HCV through education and training, technical assistance and capacity building, advocacy, and health services research and evaluation. HealthHIV leads the Pozitively Healthy national HIV consumer coalition, the HealthHCV initiative, and the National Center for Health Care Capacity Building, as well as the National Coalition for LGBT Health.

Human Rights Campaign – How HIV Impacts LGBTQ PeopleHIV continues to be a major public health crisis both in the United States and around the world. While major scientific advances have made it easier than ever to prevent and treat HIV, there remains no vaccine or cure, and tens of thousands of people continue to contract HIV every year. Insufficient funding for public health programs, ideological opposition to common sense prevention policies, and societal barriers like stigma and discrimination, have made it especially difficult for us to turn the tide against the epidemic. Together, HRC and the HRC Foundation are committed to working with our friends, partners, members, and supporters to end the dual epidemics of HIV and HIV-related stigma.

Henry J. Kaiser Family FoundationA nonprofit organization that develops research and communications programs focusing on major health care issues, including HIV/AIDS. Site features federal spending data, U.S. state HIV/AIDS information, and a daily news service.

Medscape HIV/AIDSCommercial medically oriented site featuring coverage of major HIV/AIDS conferences, news feeds, online continuing medical education (CME) courses, and special feature articles. Site requires one-time free registration.

Project Inform: Project Inform encourages the development of better treatments and cures for both HIV and hepatitis C. We advocate for innovative, medically-based prevention strategies. We provide up-to-date, life-saving information to help people living with HIV and hep C make the best choices regarding their treatment and care. And we press governments to set policies and assure unlimited access to affordable health care that will one day end the HIV and hep C epidemics.

Ryan White & Global HIV/AIDS ProgramsThe Ryan White HIV/AIDS Program provides a comprehensive system of care that includes primary medical care and essential support services for people living with HIV who are uninsured or underinsured. The Program works with cities, states, and local community-based organizations to provide HIV care and treatment services to more than half a million people each year. The Program reaches approximately 52% of all people diagnosed with HIV in the United States.