Basic Facts
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What You Should Know About HIV


HIV (Human Immunodeficiency Virus) is a virus that attacks the human immune system and can lead to a diagnosis of AIDS (Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome).  Every person with an AIDS diagnosis has HIV, but not everyone with HIV has AIDS.

HIV attacks specific immune system cells — the T-cells or CD4 cells.  These cells are critical to fighting off new infections and diseases.  HIV invades these cells and uses them to make more copies of itself, and then destroys them.  Over time, HIV destroys so many cells that the body is not able to fight off diseases and infections.  When this occurs, a person is given an AIDS diagnosis.

There is no cure for HIV.  But, this disease is preventable.

In addition, with proper treatment through “antiretroviral therapy” many people living with HIV can live longer and healthier lives.

HIV (Human Immunodeficiency Virus) is transmitted only through four fluids:

  • Blood
  • Semen (including pre-cum)
  • Vaginal fluids/ Anal fluids
  • Breast milk

Transmission of HIV can only occur when an HIV-infected body fluid enters the body through a port of entry (examples: vagina, anus, veins, mouth, direct access to tissue).

You cannot get HIV through touching, kissing, sharing food or beverages, or being friends with someone who is HIV positive.

Safer sex practices are ways to reduce the risk of becoming HIV positive. These include using barrier methods, knowing the HIV status of your partner, minimizing higher risk sexual and/or drug use behaviors, and getting tested for HIV and other STIs.

Safer injection practices are ways to reduce the risk of becoming HIV positive through needles. These include using clean needles and works every time you inject and getting tested for HIV and Hepatitis C.

Hepatitis C Virus (HCV)


  • “Hepatitis” literally means “inflammation of the liver”
  • HCV Is a blood-borne virus, transmitted blood-to-blood, that damages the liver
  • The liver is a vital organ with over 500 functions – we cannot live without a liver.  It is a “non-complaining” organ –  it has no nerve endings to feel pain due to damage or injury
  • The most common way that HCV is transmitted is through sharing injection drug equipment like syringes; it can also be transmitted through contaminated instruments used in tattooing or piercing, or through sharing personal care items like razors, tweezers, clippers and toothbrushes.
  • HCV can be sexually transmitted but the risk is considered to be low
  • HCV is a hearty virus and can live up to 4 days on a surface like a table, and can live up to 63 days inside a syringe
  • Approximately 20% of people who have Hep C have the acute type which presents with symptoms like a severe flu but resolves itself within 6 months; the remaining 80% have chronic Hepatitis C which generally has no symptoms and people can have it for 20-30 years without knowing it
  • Approximately 3-5% of HCV infected mothers pass on the virus to their babies
  • Hepatitis A, B and C are completely separate viruses and are only found in humans.  There are vaccines for Hepatitis A and B
  • There is no vaccine for Hepatitis C
  • There are new drugs like Sovaldi and Olysio that can cure Hepatitis C but they are still very expensive and not available to everyone – consult your doctor

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Copyright 2015 HIV Alliance.

Disclaimer mandated by Federal law: This site contains HIV prevention messages that might not be appropriate for all audiences. Since HIV infection is spread primarily through sexual practices or by sharing needles, prevention messages and programs may address these topics. If you are not seeking such information or may be offended by such materials, please exit this website.