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This site is set up to share stories and experiences of HIV and AIDS. Over the years, many of the same questions are sent to me and l would refer people to other sites who cover this information in depth.
This FAQ page is set up to answer these common questions in brief but if you need further information l have included links to the source of the information.

This site, or any information you may access via it, is not intended to replace professional health care advice. It is recommended that you discuss any issues concerning your health and treatment with your health care provider before taking action or relying on the information. We do not evaluate or screen WWW sites on the basis of accuracy and therefore we do not assume liability for any information obtained from these sites.



 

HIV/AIDS FAQ's

   
  What is HIV?  
  How can someone be infected with HIV?  
  What are the symptoms of HIV?  
  What is AIDS? What causes AIDS?  
  What is the difference between HIV and AIDS?  
  How common is it for HIV to develop into AIDS?  
  Which body fluids contain HIV?  
  How do l know if l have HIV and what are the symptoms?  
  Oral sex and HIV infection - How safe is oral sex?  
  How can someone become infected with HIV?  
  How is a test performed? What is the waiting period to find out the result? (Australia)  
  HIV testing in the USA    
  Fear of being tested    
  If a HIV+ woman became pregnant, would the baby be born with the virus?    

 

What is HIV?

 
 

These initials - HIV - are short for Human Immunodeficiency Virus. This is the name given to the virus that can cause AIDS. HIV is sometimes called the 'AIDS virus.' Viruses are germs that can cause illness in humans. Mumps, measels, chicken pox and the flu are caused by viruses. Viruses cannot reproduce on their own. They can only reproduce by using the cells of other animals. In humans, different viruses infect different cells and cause different sorts of illnesses. For example, the hepatitis viruses infect the liver cells. HIV infects the cells of the 'immune system' - the very thing the body uses to fight against germs.”

- this information was taken from an Australian publication 'What now?' booklet produced by the National Treatments Project of AFAO (Australian Federation of AIDS organisations)

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How can someone be infected with HIV?

 
 

The two main ways in which a young person can become infected with HIV are:


- By having intercourse with an infected partner


- By injecting drugs with a needle or syringe which has already been used by someone who is infected.

HIV can be passed on in both ways because the virus is present in the sexual fluids and blood of infected people. If infected blood or sexual fluid gets into your blood, then you will become infected.
If a man with HIV has vaginal intercourse without a condom, infected fluid could pass into the woman's blood stream through a tiny cut or sore inside her body. This can be so small that you don't know about it.
If a couple have anal intercourse the risk of infection is greater than with vaginal intercourse. If a woman with HIV has sexual intercourse without a condom, HIV could get into the man's blood through a sore patch on his penis or by getting into the tube which runs down the penis. If there is any contact with blood during sex, this increases the risk of infection. For example, there may be blood in the vagina if intercourse happens during a woman's period. There can also be bleeding during anal intercourse.”


This information was taken from the AVERT website, the AVERT site has detailed information on HIV and AIDS written in a very clear way.
www.avert.org/young.htm

Other links related to this question:
Stages of HIV see www.avert.org/HIVstages.htm
Explaining Groups and Subtypes of the HIV virus www.avert.org/HIVtypes.htm
More information on HIV and syringe drug use www.avert.org/injecting.htm

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What are the symptoms of HIV?

 
 

HIV disease can affect you in many different ways. The range of illnesses associated with HIV may be mild, like a rash or dry skin, or very severe such as the pneumonia, PCP, or the brain infection called toxoplasmosis.

Everybody's immune system is different, so there's no way of predicting how HIV will affect any one person. Many people with HIV stay well for many years while others become ill very quickly. By having regular T-cell checks, you can see how your immune system is coping with HIV and whether you are in danger of illness.

One thing does remain the same for everyone-the healthier your immune system, the less likely it is that you will develop a serious illness associated with HIV.”

- this information was taken from an Australian publication 'What now?' booklet produced by the National Treatments Project of AFAO ( Australian Federation of AIDS organisations)

The AVERT Web site also notes:

The only way to know for sure whether you are infected with HIV is to have an HIV antibody test. The symptoms of initial HIV infection are not very specific.

If a person is infected, a few weeks after infection some people experience a flu-like illness. Only a fifth of people experience symptoms which are serious enough to require a doctor's attention. Several years after infection a person may experience symptoms of particular illnesses and cancers. These are the result of the infected person's immune system being damaged by HIV to the point where it is no longer able to fight off these opportunistic infections.

In each case, HIV infection is difficult to diagnose with out having taken an HIV antibody test first.”


- this information from the AVERT website

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What is AIDS? What causes AIDS?

 
 

“AIDS stands for acquired immunodeficiency syndrome. An HIV-infected person receives a diagnosis of AIDS after developing one of the CDC-defined AIDS indicator illnesses. An HIV-positive person who has not had any serious illnesses also can receive an AIDS diagnosis on the basis of certain blood tests (CD4+ counts).

A positive HIV test result does not mean that a person has AIDS. A diagnosis of AIDS is made by a physician using certain clinical criteria (e.g., AIDS indicator illnesses).

Infection with HIV can weaken the immune system to the point that it has difficulty fighting off certain infections. These types of infections are known as "opportunistic" infections because they take the opportunity a weakened immune system gives to cause illness. Many of the infections that cause problems or may be life-threatening for people with AIDS are usually controlled by a healthy immune system. The immune system of a person with AIDS is weakened to the point that medical intervention may be necessary to prevent or treat serious illness.

Today there are medical treatments that can slow down the rate at which HIV weakens the immune system. There are other treatments that can prevent or cure some of the illnesses associated with AIDS. As with other diseases, early detection offers more options for treatment and preventative care. ”


- this material has been taken from the Npin (National Prevention Information Network) website based in the US. A referral and distribution service for information on HIV/AIDS, STD's and TB. Go to the website for further information.

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What is the difference between HIV and AIDS?

 
 

There are a number of recognised stages of HIV infection.

Stage 1 Primary infection
where people first become infected and in some cases experience 'flu-like' symptoms (the seroconversion illness).

Stage 2 Asymptomatic illness
where people remain well for a number of years (no symptoms).

Stage 3
where people experience 'mild' symptoms such as lack of energy, night sweats etc.

Stage 4 Advanced disease (AIDS)
where people experience more severe symptoms or opportunistic illnesses.”

-this material is from the HIV Tests and Treatments booklet AFAO, Australia.

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How common is it for HIV to develop into AIDS?

 
 

“Since 1992, scientists have estimated that about half the people with HIV develop AIDS within 10 years after becoming infected. This time varies greatly from person to person and can depend on many factors, including a person's health status and their health-related behaviours.
Today there are medical treatments that can slow down the rate at which HIV weakens the immune system. There are other treatments that can prevent or cure some of the illnesses associated with AIDS, though the treatments do not cure AIDS itself. As with other diseases, early detection offers more options for treatment and preventative health care.”

- this material has been taken from the Npin (National Prevention Information Network) website based in the US. A referral and distribution service for information on HIV/AIDS, STD's and TB. Go to the website for further information.

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Which body fluids contain HIV?

 
 

"These body fluids have been proven to spread HIV:
blood semen
vaginal fluid
breast milk
other body fluids containing blood

These are additional body fluids that may transmit the virus that health care workers may come into contact with:

cerebrospinal fluid surrounding the brain and the spinal cord
synovial fluid surrounding bone joints
amniotic fluid surrounding a fetus ”

- this material has been taken from the Npin (National Prevention Information Network) website based in the US. A referral and distribution service for information on HIV/AIDS, STD's and TB. Go to the website for further information.

The AVERT web site also notes:

HIV is present in negligible quantities in:
Saliva (only found in minute amounts in a very small number of people)
Tears
Blister fluid

HIV is not present in:
Urine Faeces
Vomit
Sweat”

This information was taken from the AVERT website, the AVERT site has detailed information on HIV and AIDS written in a very clear way. Visit website at www.avert.org



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How do l know if l have HIV and what are the symptoms?

 
 

“The only way to determine for sure whether you are infected is to be tested for HIV infection. You cannot rely on symptoms to know whether or not you are infected with HIV.

Many people who are infected with HIV do not have any symptoms at all for many years.

The following may be warning signs of infection with HIV:

  • rapid weight loss

  • dry cough

  • recurring fever or profuse night sweats

  • profound and unexplained fatigue

  • swollen lymph glands in the armpits, groin, or neck

  • diarrhoea that lasts for more than a week

  • white spots or unusual blemishes on the tongue, in the mouth, or in the throat

  • pneumonia

  • red, brown, pink, or purplish blotches on or under the skin or inside the mouth, nose, or eyelids

  • memory loss, depression, and other neurological disorders

  • However, no one should assume they are infected if they have any of these symptoms. Each of these symptoms can be related to other illnesses. Again, the only way to determine whether you are infected is to be tested for HIV infection.
    Similarly, you cannot rely on symptoms to establish that a person has AIDS. The symptoms of AIDS are similar to the symptoms of many other illnesses. AIDS is a medical diagnosis made by a doctor based on specific criteria established by the CDC.”

    - this material has been taken from the Npin (National Prevention Information Network) website based in the US. A referral and distribution service for information on HIV/AIDS, STD's and TB. Go to the website for further information.

    The AVERT site also notes:

    “You cannot tell whether a person is infected with HIV or has developed AIDS by how they look and appear to you. A person infected with HIV is diagnosed as having AIDS when they develop an AIDS defining illness. This is the result of HIV weakening their immune system to the point at which it has difficulty fighting off infections that would otherwise be controlled by a healthy immune system. Because these illness take advantage of an infected persons immune system to cause illness, they are also know as opportunistic infections.

    In many countries anti-viral drugs are available to people with HIV to help reduce the rate at which HIV weakens the immune system. There are also drugs available to prevent and treat some of the specific opportunistic infections. ”

    This information was taken from the AVERT website, the AVERT site has detailed information on HIV and AIDS written in a very clear way.

    Visit website at www.avert.org

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    Oral sex and HIV infection - How safe is oral sex?

     
     

    “Oral sex (one person kissing, licking or sucking the sexual areas of another person) does carry some risk of infection.
    If a person sucks the penis of an infected man, for example, infected fluid could get into the mouth. The virus could then get into the blood if you have bleeding gums or tiny sores somewhere in the mouth. The same is true if infected sexual fluids from a woman get into the mouth of her partner. But infection from oral sex alone seems to be very rare.
    Safer sex also means using a condom during sexual intercourse. Using a condom is not absolutely safe as condoms can break.”

    This information was taken from the AVERT website, the AVERT site has detailed information on HIV and AIDS written in a very clear way.

    Visit website at www.avert.org

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    How can someone become infected with HIV?

     
     

    The main ways that people become infected with HIV are:
    - by having sexual intercourse with an infected partner
    - by injecting drugs using a needle or syringe which has already been used by someone who is infected. HIV can be passed on in both ways because the virus is present in the sexual fluids and blood of infected people. If infected blood or sexual fluid gets into your blood, then you will become infected.

    Blood transfusions
    Some people have been infected through a transfusion of infected blood. But in most countries all the blood used for transfusions is now tested for HIV. In these countries where the blood has been tested, infection through a blood transfusion is now extremely rare.

    Blood products
    Blood products, such as those used by people with Haemophilia, are now heat-treated to make them safe.

    Mother to baby transmission
    An infected pregnant woman can pass the virus on to her unborn baby either before or during birth. HIV can also be passed on during breast feeding.

    Infection in the health-care setting
    Some health-care workers have become infected with HIV by being stuck with needles containing HIV-infected blood. Even fewer have become infected by HIV-infected blood getting into the health-care worker's bloodstream through an open cut or splashes into a mucous membrane (e.g. eyes or the inside of the nose). There have only been two documented instances of patients becoming infected by a health-care worker. ”

    This information was taken from the AVERT website, the AVERT site has detailed information on HIV and AIDS written in a very clear way. Visit website at www.avert.org

    More information on this topic can be seen at:
    www.avert.org/howcan.htm


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    How is a test performed? What is the waiting period to find out the result? (Australia)

     
     


    The following information is specifically written for those who live in Australia.
    The HIV antibody test is a simple blood test performed in a laboratory on a small sample of your blood. The sample can be taken by your doctor, or in a government or community clinic or health centre. Your test result is confidential. Even the fact that you have been tested at all is protected by law.
    Confidentiality means that the health service that conducts the blood test is not allowed to tell anyone who you are and what your results are. A small fee may be charged as there is no government rebate for this service. The test is free at Sexual Health Clinics.

    It can take as long as 3 months for the body to make enough antibodies for the blood test to be able to detect them. So if a person became infected with HIV two weeks ago, it may not yet show up in their blood. Another test may be necessary after three months from possible infection.

    Important things to remember about the HIV antibody test are:
    - It can take up to two weeks for the test results to come back.
    - You should go back to the clinic to get the results in person, not over the phone. If you find you have HIV it is important you are supported by people who understand its implications and the support you will need.
    - It is also possible to be tested anonymously, meaning that no name is given to the laboratory and only you are aware of the results. Test results are given by randomly assigned numbers at the time of testing.
    - You should ensure your doctor has a full understanding of issues related to HIV/AIDS and HIV testing. If your doctor does not, or if you do not feel you wish to discuss aspects of your lifestyle with your usual doctor, you can contact one of the agencies such as: AIDSLINE í Tel: (03) 9347 6099, 1800 133 392 - This service is based in AUSTRALIA. They can refer you to doctors who know about HIV/AIDS and who will understand your concerns.More about ‘confidentiality’.

    While a doctor and health service have a duty to protect a person’s medical information, they also have a duty to protect the general public health. That means that if the doctor believes a person with HIV has not told their sexual partner, and they are not having safe sex, the doctor would have a responsibility to warn that person.

    2) "Being Tested for HIV/AIDS", Department of Human Services January 1998, Australia.

    These links will give you more information:
    the HIV test in the UK www.avert.org/testing.htm
    HIV testing in the US www.thebody.com/testing.html#basics
    More info. on the test in the US

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    HIV testing in the USA

     
     

    Confidential and anonymous HIV testing is also available in the US. Anonymous testing is available in 39 states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico. Test results are given by randomly assigned numbers at the time of testing.

    Types of HIV Antibody Tests Avaialable in the US

    A wider range of tests are available in the US. All testing options are not available in all areas. Contact your local health department for the tests available in your area.

    Standard blood test:
    This was the first HIV antibody test as described above. It is the most widely used.
    Urine and oral-fluid HIV tests offer alternatives for anyone reluctant to have blood drawn. Urine testing for HIV antibodies is not as sensitive or specific as blood testing. A physician must order these tests, and the results are reported to the ordering physician or his or her assistant.
    Orasure© is currently the only FDA approved oral-fluid test. Fluid (not saliva) is collected from inside the mouth and analysed. Oral fluid tests are offered at many HIV testing locations. It can determine within 20 minutes the presence of antibodies that indicate HIV.

    What about home test kits?
    This do-it-yourself test kit uses the same technology as the standard blood test. Individual blood samples are collected at home, and mailed to a laboratory. Test results are provided over the telephone. The serum home testing kit costs between US$30 and $45, and is available at many drug stores. Currently there is only one FDA approved home sample collection kit.
    The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has only approved one home-use HIV test kit, and warn that many of these kits, which are available on the Internet, give inaccurate results. Currently only the Home Access test is approved by the FDA. The Home Access test kit can be found at most drug stores. The testing procedure involves pricking your finger, placing drops of blood on a specially treated card, and then mailing the card in for testing at a licensed laboratory. Customers are given an identification number to use when phoning for the test results. Callers may speak to a counsellor before taking the test, while waiting for the test result, and when getting the result.

    From www.hivtest.org
    This Web site is sponsored by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)
    and maintained by the CDC National Prevention Information Network (NPIN).


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    Fear of being tested - What are the risks of testing?

     
     

    Fear about the consequences of testing, lack of access to care and treatment, and the stigma of being HIV positive can stop people from getting tested . Life-extending medication has drastically reduced the number of US AIDS deaths in the past two decades from about 51,000 in 1995 to about 16,000 in 2001. The earlier a person knows they have HIV, the earlier they can start treatment which can slow HIV down and delay AIDS. It is harder to treat people if they are at the very late stages of HIV infection. For a woman considering having children, treatments can be extremely effective in having a child without HIV.

    There are many sites where confidential testing and counselling are available.
    The US Centre for Disease Control maintains a database providing names and addresses of clinics and medical facilities providing these services all over the country. That database is available at www.hivtest.org

    Some advantages of getting tested are:
    - modern treatment methods can increase the duration and quality of life of people with HIV;
    - people who know they have HIV may be better able to make informed choices about future life plans;
    - knowledge of HIV status may help people decide on their safe sex strategies.

    Some disadvantages are:
    - the anxious wait for the result;
    - knowing about one's HIV infection can be stressful and frightening;
    - some people misuse a negative result to think that prior risk behaviour was okay.

    Other things to consider:
    - Receiving a positive HIV antibody test result can be a traumatic event. Initial and ongoing support is available from this Centre and other agencies.
    - Life insurance and visas for some countries can be restricted for people infected with HIV.
    - Sometimes people with HIV experience discrimination, eg. in personal relationships, housing or employment
    - There is a legal requirement for people infected with HIV to inform present and future sexual partners.
    - The Health Department receives statistics on the number of people with HIV or AIDS, but not names or addresses.
    - All people thinking of being tested for HIV are invited to discuss any concerns with a counsellor, nurse or doctor.
    - Any medical information is confidential. Testing for HIV is always done on coded (not named) specimens.

    Title : HIV antibody test , Publication Number : SSH-5495 , Publication Date : 1/06/1999, Author : SSHC

    It is important to get tested at a place that also provides counseling about HIV and AIDS. Nobody should be tested for HIV without first talking to an experienced medical practitioner or counsellor and preparing for the possibility of a positive test. If the test is positive, ongoing counselling will be necessary. Counsellors can help you understand the meaning of the test results and tell you about AIDS-related resources in your area.
    Many people fear they will experience prejudice or discrimination if it becomes known that they are HIV infected, or even that they have been tested for HIV. These are real possibilities, although Victorian law (Australia) makes it illegal to discriminate against people who are known or alleged to be HIV infected. Test results must be kept strictly confidential, and the person being tested should be very careful how and when they tell other people about their test result.

    - this information is taken from the 'HIV Overview' PDF file which is taken from 'The HIV Resource Booklet written by David Baker (last revised Sept. 1996)

    Another useful link may be:
    More information if you've just been diagnosed www.thebody.com/learning.html
    The CDC National AIDS Hotline can answer questions about testing 1-800-342-AIDS (1-800-342-2437)
    1-800-AIDS-TTY (1-800-243-7889) TTY
    1-800-344-SIDA (1-800-344-7432) Spanish
    HIV Antibody Testing Options

     

     

    If a HIV+ woman became pregnant, would the baby be born with the virus?

     
     

    Until recently the chance of a positive woman having a positive baby was about 1 in 4. A women thinking about pregnancy with access to new drug treatments can reduce the chances of having an infected baby to almost no risk at all (around 2%). For some women this is still too much of a risk, for other women it is not. Every woman has the right to make her own decision about babies. In countries where fewer facilities are available, there has been some success in reducing the transmission rate by use of a small dose of drugs during labour.

    Mother -to-child transmission (MTCT), also known as vertical transmission, may occur
    - Before birth
    - During Birth
    - After birth through breastfeeding

    A woman can minimize the risk of HIV being passed to her child by certain interventions. These include:
    - taking anti-HIV drugs during pregnancy (but not for the first 3-4 months of pregnancy),
    - taking anti-HIV drugs drugs during labour
    - choosing caesarean section as the method of delivery
    - giving the baby a short course of antiretroviral therapy after birth
    - choosing bottle feeding, not breast-feeding

    Testing
    Your baby can have an HIV antibody test but it will not necessarily show straight away whether the baby is infected. All babies born to mothers with HIV are born with HIV antibodies. Babies who are not infected lose their antibodies by the time they are around 18 months old. So it is only after your baby is 18 months old that the HIV antibody test will give an accurate result.

    In some cases the use of other diagnostic tests, such as the polymerase chain reaction (PCR), has been recommended as a faster way of finding out the status of your baby. However, the PCR test is not widely available in many countries.

    More information about children, HIV and AIDS can be found here. www.avert.org/children.htm
    More information about mother to child transmission of HIV can be found here. http://www.avert.org/motherchild.htm
    /www.avert.org/pregnanancy.htm: Mother to Child Transmission (MTCT)



     
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