Is HIV the same as AIDS?
HIV and AIDS are related but different. HIV is the virus that causes AIDS. HIV weakens your immune system. Your immune system fights disease and infection. Left untreated, HIV can lead to AIDS. Getting treatment before your immune system becomes too weak can help you lead a healthier life. Learn more on the HIV vs AIDS page.
If I have HIV, does that mean I am going to die?
Infection with HIV is serious. But people living with HIV who get medical care and take care of themselves are living longer, healthier lives, thanks to treatment. Newer HIV medications are more convenient and easier to take. With treatment, HIV can be managed as a chronic (ongoing) disease. And men and women with HIV can lead healthier lives.
What are the signs of HIV?
Most of the men and women who have been recently infected with HIV have no signs that they have HIV. Also, symptoms that may happen during the early stage of HIV infection are similar to symptoms of other illnesses. So people may not recognize them. To learn more about the signs and symptoms of HIV, go to the Signs and Symptoms page.
Can I give HIV to other people?
Yes. A man or woman living with HIV can spread the virus to others.
HIV is spread through body fluids, most often during unprotected sex. Here are some other ways that HIV can be transmitted:
- You can get HIV from sharing needles used for injection drug use
- You can get HIV from a blood transfusion or an organ transplant from a donor with HIV
- Unborn and newborn babies can get HIV from an HIV-positive woman during pregnancy or childbirth, or from breast-feeding
- Healthcare workers can get HIV if they are exposed to the body fluids of people with HIV through needles, broken skin, the nose, or the mouth
- There is a remote risk of spreading HIV through deep, open-mouth kissing if there are sores or bleeding gums and blood is exchanged
HIV cannot be spread in any of these ways:
- Using a toilet seat
- Sharing spoons, forks, or drinking glasses
- Shaking hands
- Being bitten by animals or insects
To find out how to keep the people around you safe, talk with your healthcare provider. Your provider can tell you more about how HIV can be transmitted and what you should do to protect yourself and help prevent the spread of HIV.
To learn more about how to prevent the spread of HIV, go to RedefineHIV.com.
I've heard that not everyone with HIV will need to take medicine. Is that right?
Even though you may not feel sick or look sick, you may still need HV medicine to keep you healthier. Without treatment, it is very rare for someone with HIV to keep the HIV in his or her system at an undetectable level over the long term.
HIV attacks the immune system. The immune system is made up of cells that fight infection and disease. With a weak immune system, you are more likely to get infections, such as HIV-related pneumonia, herpes, and tuberculosis. You are also more likely to get cancers, such as lymphoma and cervical cancer. HIV medications do not cure HIV or prevent its spread. But HIV therapy can help keep the amount of HIV in your blood from increasing and help keep you healthier for longer.
To learn more, see Getting Started With HIV Treatment. Also, see the answer to the question "Can I wait to start HIV medicine until after I feel sick?" below.
Will HIV medicines make me sick?
Each person is different and may have a different response to HIV treatment. HIV medications may have side effects, but they have improved compared with earlier HIV medicines. The side effects of newer HIV medicines may:
- Occur less often
- Be less severe
- Be less likely to affect face and body shape
Can I wait to start HIV medicine until after I feel sick?
Studies show that starting HIV treatment earlier in the disease may help you live a longer, healthier life. The latest HIV treatment guidelines issued by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) recommend starting HIV medicines for all people with HIV, regardless of their CD4 count. Talk with your healthcare provider about your treatment options and all of the factors you need to consider before starting HIV medicines.
Can I afford HIV medicine?
There are many programs you can access to help pay for HIV medicines. It is important that you take care of yourself, so do not let cost prevent you from starting therapy. If you are worried about how you will pay for your HIV medicines, here are some ideas:
- Talk with your healthcare provider
- Talk with your local AIDS Service Organization (ASO)
- Contact your insurance company
- Find out about government programs, such as AIDS Drug Assistance Programs (ADAPs), Medicaid, or Veterans Affairs (VA)
- Contact the pharmaceutical company that makes your HIV medicines (ask your healthcare)
- Contact the Partnership for Prescription Assistance (PPA)
I have never had symptoms. Why?
Not all people with HIV have signs or symptoms of HIV infection. Also, symptoms that may happen during the early stage of HIV infection are similar to symptoms of other illnesses. So you may not realize that these early symptoms are symptoms of HIV infection.
Within a month or two after HIV has entered the body, some people may get a flu-like illness that can last a few weeks. The symptoms may vary from person to person. Symptoms in the early stage of HIV infection may include some or all of the following:
- Feeling very tired
- Swollen lymph glands
- Sore throat
- Skin rash
Normally these symptoms go away within a month. Because they go away so fast, they can be easily mistaken for other viral infections, like the flu.
People living with HIV may look and feel healthy for several years. But even if they feel healthy, HIV spreads through the body if it is not treated, destroying the immune system and damaging vital organs.
HIV medications may limit or slow down the destruction of the immune system, may improve the health of people living with HIV, and may reduce their ability to spread HIV to others.
How soon after exposure will I have symptoms of HIV infection?
Most of the men and women recently infected with HIV have no symptoms. So if you were recently infected with HIV, you might not know it. The person who gave you HIV may not look or feel sick either. Also, symptoms that may happen during the early stage of HIV infection are similar to symptoms of other illnesses. So you may not recognize them as symptoms of HIV.
How long do the symptoms last?
Most people who have been recently infected with HIV do not have any signs or symptoms.
For those who do have symptoms during the early stages of HIV infection, most symptoms go away within a month. Because symptoms go away so fast, they can be easily mistaken for other viral infections, like the flu.
Symptoms that may occur in the early stage of HIV infection may include some or all of the following:
- Feeling very tired
- Swollen lymph glands
- Sore throat
- Skin rash
If there is a risk that you have been exposed to HIV, it is important to be tested. If you find out that you are HIV negative, you can do things to protect yourself. If you find out that you are HIV positive, you can do things to protect others. You can also talk with your healthcare provider about starting an HIV treatment regimen to help control the HIV and help keep your immune system strong.
Is there a special diet for people living with HIV?
People living with HIV who are not showing signs or symptoms of illness do not need a special HIV diet. But they should make every effort to eat healthy foods and balanced meals.
People with HIV need more protein and energy. A healthy meal plan can help provide needed nutrients. Good nutrition can help keep your body strong while you are taking HIV medications. Also, early treatment of HIV infection may help maintain a healthy body weight and a strong immune system.
Why is exercise so important for people living with HIV?
Exercise is an important part of staying healthy while living with HIV. It can help improve well-being. Regular exercise may help a person feel more alert, help relieve stress, and help stimulate the appetite.
Exercise is the only way to strengthen and build up muscles. The body uses muscles to store energy and protein that the immune system can use when it needs to. So exercise is very important for the health of people living with HIV.
Find an activity that you enjoy and can fit into your daily life. Walking, running, swimming, biking, and dancing are all good choices.
Why do people living with HIV have nutritional problems?
Several things can cause nutritional problems in people with HIV. A shortage of nutrients can weaken your immune function. This may worsen the course of HIV disease.
- HIV or HIV-related infections can damage the lining of the stomach and intestines. This can make it hard for your body to absorb the nutrients it needs
- Some HIV-related infections can interfere with proper nutrition. They can cause vomiting and diarrhea. Vomiting and diarrhea can lead to fluid loss (dehydration) as well as to poor absorption or loss of nutrients
- Other infections, such as thrush (oral candidiasis), gum inflammation (gingivitis), and throat inflammation, can make eating painful
- Medicines for HIV, HIV-related infections, and other conditions can lead to nutrient shortages or imbalances.
- Loss of appetite, feeling very tired (fatigue), and taste changes can make it hard to eat enough
- The need to take certain HIV medicines on either a full or an empty stomach or with specific types of food can disrupt normal eating patterns
Despite the challenges, eating a well-balanced diet is important for meeting the body’s energy and nutrient needs.
People with HIV who get the nutrients they need are sick less often. Good nutrition can help boost immune function, help you have a better quality of life, and help improve the body’s response to HIV treatment.
Do women living with HIV have special nutritional needs?
Women living with HIV are at risk for poor nutrition. Women today are busy in their many roles as homemaker, mother, caregiver, wife, and working women. Because of that, they often neglect themselves. Ignoring their health and nutrition increases their risk of poor nutrition.
How do women get HIV?
Unprotected sex with a male partner who has HIV is the most common way that women get HIV. All unprotected sex with a partner who has HIV is risky. But unprotected anal sex is riskier than unprotected vaginal sex. Unprotected oral sex can also be risky, but it is less risky than anal or vaginal sex.
Women have a greater chance of getting HIV during unprotected vaginal sex with an HIV-infected partner than men do.
According to the US Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) HIV treatment guidelines, the risk of spreading HIV through sex between a man and a woman is low when the partner infected with HIV has an undetectable viral load. But this is true only if:
- HIV is completely suppressed and the viral load is undetectable
- The partner with HIV sticks to an effective HIV medication regimen
- Neither partner has any other sexually transmitted infection (STI)
- There is no other risky behavior being engaged in
It is important to take HIV medicines exactly as prescribed in order to achieve an ongoing undetectable viral load. This can help prevent the spread of HIV. It is also important to always use condoms and practice safer sex, to not share needles and other drug injection equipment, and to test for STIs and treat them.
How can I find out if my baby has HIV?
When the body fights infection, it creates antibodies. The antibodies that a mother makes when she is pregnant are passed to her baby. If a woman has HIV, the antibodies to HIV are passed on to her baby. Because of this, all babies born to women who are living with HIV will have a positive HIV antibody test at first.
Babies begin to make their own antibodies between 6 and 18 months of age. Until then, they keep their mother’s antibodies.
If not infected with HIV, a baby will start to test negative for HIV sometime between 6 and 18 months, as the mother's antibodies are lost.
If infected with HIV, a baby will start to make his or her own antibodies to HIV when the mother's antibodies are lost. The baby will test positive and continue to test positive for HIV.
Another blood test, called the viral load test, which is also known as a polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test, directly measures the presence of HIV in the blood. This test can also be used to check babies for HIV infection. The test may be able to tell if your baby is infected during the first 6 months of life.
If I have HIV, can I pass it on to my baby?
Yes, if you have HIV, there is always a chance that you can pass it on to your baby. Taking HIV medicines and sticking to them can greatly reduce the chance of mother-to-child spread of HIV but cannot completely prevent it.
When a woman with HIV sticks to her HIV medications during her pregnancy, there is more than a 98% chance that her baby will be born HIV free. Mothers who are not treated have about a 1 in 4 chance of passing HIV on to their babies.
The chance of passing HIV on to your baby may be less if you have a cesarean delivery (a C-section). Talk about this with your healthcare provider.
The risk of spreading HIV to a newborn drops to below 2% when a women sticks to her HIV medication regimen. But the risk of mother-to-child spread of HIV is much higher if the mother has advanced HIV disease, a high viral load, or a lower-than-normal CD4 count.
Other things that may increase the risk of spreading HIV to a newborn include:
- Drug use, such as heroin or crack/cocaine
- Severe inflammation of fetal membranes
- A prolonged time between membrane rupture (water breaking) and delivery of the baby
Should I breast-feed my baby if I have HIV?
HIV can be passed to a baby through breast milk. Because of this, it is better to bottle-feed your baby if you have HIV.
Sticking to your HIV medicines is important for you to stay healthier. But HIV treatment does not cure HIV. Even with an undetectable viral load, it is always better to bottle-feed your baby to avoid passing HIV on to the baby through breast milk.
What if I want to have a baby but I have HIV?
If you have HIV and are thinking about having a baby, talk with your healthcare provider.
According to the US Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) HIV treatment guidelines, a combination HIV treatment regimen is recommended for all HIV-infected pregnant women to help prevent passing HIV on to the baby.
If you take HIV medicines and would like to have a baby, your healthcare provider will assess the status of your HIV disease and recommend changes in your medications as necessary. If you have not yet started HIV medications, your healthcare provider will suggest an HIV regimen for you.
What if the father of my baby has HIV?
The father’s HIV status will not affect the baby. Only the mother can pass HIV to the baby during pregnancy, birth, or breast-feeding.
When a woman with HIV sticks to her HIV medicine regimen during her pregnancy, there is a 98% chance that the baby will be born without HIV.
Mothers who are not treated for their HIV have about a 1 in 4 chance of passing HIV on to their babies.
What happens if I have HIV and I become pregnant?
According to the US Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) HIV treatment guidelines, a combination HIV treatment regimen is recommended for all pregnant women with HIV to help prevent passing HIV on to the baby.
If you take HIV medicines and become pregnant, your healthcare provider will check the status of your HIV disease and recommend changes in your medications as necessary.
If you become pregnant but have not yet started HIV medications, your healthcare provider will suggest an HIV regimen for you. Your healthcare provider will likely do some drug resistance testing before deciding the regimen that is best for you.
The risk of spreading HIV to a newborn drops to below 2% when women stick to their HIV medication regimen.
Should I see my regular healthcare provider or an HIV specialist?
There are several things you may want to think about in choosing a healthcare provider to manage your HIV care. You may decide to have 1 healthcare provider for all of your health needs, including your HIV. Or you may use 1 healthcare provider for your general health needs and an HIV specialist for your HIV care. It is important that the healthcare provider you choose to manage your HIV care has experience treating people at all stages of HIV.
To find an HIV healthcare provider, visit Find a Healthcare Provider/ASO.
What is the best way to work with my healthcare provider?
Many people like to take an active role in their healthcare. They do a lot of reading on their own and write down questions to ask their healthcare providers. They work with their healthcare providers to make decisions about their healthcare. Other people are more comfortable having their providers make the important decisions. Decide how you want to work with your healthcare provider and see if that fits with the way your healthcare provider likes to work with patients.
How can I help my healthcare provider help me?
It is important that your healthcare provider have all of the information he or she needs to give the best advice about your treatment. This starts with your medical history and records. These may need to be sent from another provider’s office. Your healthcare provider should know about any medicines you are using for HIV or other conditions. This includes prescription and nonprescription medications, as well as herbal remedies. Tell your healthcare provider how you feel about using medication and if you have any concerns.
Be honest about your lifestyle. Your eating, sleeping, and work patterns (including hours and amount of travel) can make a difference in your healthcare. So can your sexual practices and use of recreational drugs. This information can be important in selecting an HIV regimen that best fits your lifestyle. This is not the time to worry about being judged for your behavior. It is better to have an HIV healthcare provider who knows you, instead of one who does not because you have held back information. That is why it is so important to find an HIV healthcare provider you are comfortable with and can trust.
When should I start treatment?
Starting HIV medicines is recommended for everyone with HIV, regardless of CD4 count, but the decision of when to begin treatment for HIV is a very important and personal one. It is a topic that you should discuss fully with your healthcare provider. (If you don’t have an HIV healthcare provider, find one in your area now.)
The decision you make with your healthcare provider about when to begin HIV treatment will depend on a number of things, including:
- How healthy you are
- How healthy you feel
- Your viral load (how much HIV is in your blood)
- Your CD4 count (how strong your immune system is)
- Your ability and willingness to commit to a lifelong treatment plan
- Medical, social, and emotional factors that might impact your ability to stick to your treatment