Human immunodeficiency virus, or HIV, is the virus that causes acquired immunodeficiency syndrome, or AIDS. The virus attacks the immune system, which is responsible for fighting off diseases and infections and keeping the body healthy. A person without a strong immune system can’t fight off normal infections that most people get, and often contract infections or cancers that healthy people don’t ever get. HIV infects and destroys a certain kind of white blood cell, called a CD4+ cell, that’s a critical part of the immune system.
How You Get HIV
Most people get HIV by having unprotected sex with an infected person that involves passing blood, semen or vaginal fluid, or by sharing an intravenous needle with an infected person. A woman who is pregnant can also give the disease to her baby. HIV doesn’t survive outside the body, so you can’t get it from kissing or sharing a drinking glass with an infected person.
What is AIDS?
AIDS is an advanced state of HIV infection. It usually takes between 10 and 12 years for someone infected with HIV to develop AIDS. However, there are medicines available that can slow or stop the damage that HIV does to the immune system to prevent a person from developing AIDS. In AIDS patients, the same medicines can slow or stop the damage to the immune system, and it will begin to recover, although it might not return to a normal, healthy level.
Anonymous HIV Testing
There are different kinds of HIV tests available. Some tests you can do at home with a saliva sample and other tests you need to give a blood sample and have them tested in a lab. It might take up to three months after you’ve been infected with the HIV virus to test positive for HIV, and the CDC recommends getting tested every three months if you’re in a high-risk group. We recommend the Oraquick Oral In-Home Saliva Test for HIV for completely anonymous HIV testing in the privacy of your own home. If you want an anonymous laboratory test that uses a blood sample, follow the instructions in our free guide to anonymous HIV and STD testing.
For more information, read the CDC Fact Sheet on STDs and HIV and view the video below.