What you need to know about HIV

You can’t tell you have HIV based on symptoms. For some people, symptoms of HIV don’t appear for many years after being infected. However, symptoms can also arise within a few weeks. The initial symptoms of HIV are similar to the flu or mono. They may include fever, fatigue, rash, and sore throat. These symptoms often go away within a few weeks and may not reappear for a number of years. The only way to know if you have been infected with HIV is to get tested.

HIV cannot be cured. Currently, there is no cure for HIV. However, there are treatments available to help keep virus levels low and help maintain your immune system. Some drugs work by interfering with the proteins that HIV needs to copy itself. Others work by blocking the virus from entering or inserting its genetic material into your immune cells.

Having HIV does not mean you have AIDS. HIV is a virus that destroys the body's CD4 immune cells. These cells help fight disease. With the help of certain drugs, you can live with HIV for many years without HIV turning into AIDS. HIV can only turn into AIDS when you have HIV as well as certain opportunistic infections or your CD4 cell count drops below 200.

HIV is difficult to contract from casual contact. It is impossible to get or spread HIV simply from casual contact such as drinking from the same glass or sharing a bath towel. It is also very rare to get HIV from a blood transfusion because the U.S. blood supply is carefully tested. HIV can only be spread by having unprotected sex with an infected partner, sharing needles that transmit the infection through blood, or getting a tattoo from unsterilized equipment that has been exposed to the virus.

HIV is not a death sentence. Many people who have been infected with HIV live for decades. It is possible to live this long both with HIV or AIDS. In fact, many people live as long as those without the virus. It is important to try and prevent HIV from turning into AIDS because the virus can become much worse once it becomes AIDS. If infected with HIV or AIDS, make sure to regularly see your doctor and stay on top of taking any medications or recommendations during your treatment. 

It is not safe to have sex when both partners have HIV. Just because you and your partner both have HIV, doesn't mean you should forget about protection when having sex. Using a condom or other latex barrier can help protect you from other sexually transmitted diseases as well as other strains of HIV, which may be resistant to anti-HIV medication. Even if you are being treated and feel well you can still infect others.

You can have a baby if you are HIV-positive. Infected mothers can indeed pass HIV to their babies during pregnancy or delivery. However, you can lower the risk by working with your doctor and getting the appropriate care and medication. Pregnant women with HIV can take medications to treat their infection and to help protect their babies against the virus.