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HIV-AIDS Frequently Asked Questions

Q: What is HIV?

Answer: HIV (Human Immunodeficiency Virus) is the virus that causes AIDS (Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome). HIV enters the body usually as a result of unprotected sexual intercourse or other blood to blood contact with someone who already has the virus. HIV attacks and weakens the immune system by destroying helper T-cells, an essential part of the immune system. HIV is fragile and cannot survive long outside of the body.

Q: What is AIDS?

Answer: The term “AIDS” stands for acquired immunodeficiency syndrome. People who have AIDS have a defect in natural immunity against disease. People who have AIDS can get serious illnesses that would not be a threat to anyone whose immune system was functioning normally. These illnesses are referred to as “opportunistic” infections or diseases. AIDS is a late stage of HIV disease. There are medications that have helped people living with HIV or AIDS live longer, healthier lives. Some people have lived for more than twenty years and have taken medicines for more than ten years. But, there is no cure.

Q: How is HIV transmitted?

Answer:  HIV is found in blood, semen, vaginal secretions, and other body fluids of a person who is infected with HIV.

HIV is spread by sexual contact, needle sharing, or rarely, through transfused blood or its components. HIV may also be transmitted from an infected mother to infant during pregnancy, birth, or through breast feeding. The risk of infection with HIV is increased by:

HIV Infection cannot be spread by:

Donating Blood: In the U.S., it is impossible for a donor to get HIV from giving blood or plasma. Blood banks and other blood collection centers use sterile equipment and disposable needles. Each needle is brand new and used only once, then destroyed. The need for blood is great, and people who are not at increased risk from getting HIV are urged to continue to donate blood as they have in the past.

All donated blood has been tested for HIV antibody since March 1985 and for HIV viral particles (referred to as P24 antigen) since March 1996. Blood identified with HIV antibody or antigen is not used for transfusions.

Q: Is HIV/AIDS a preventable disease?

Answer: HIV infection is preventable and there is a test to determine if someone is infected. However, since many infected people don’t get sick for years, they don’t get tested and unknowingly pass the virus to others during sex or by sharing needles.

If you abstain from sex or don’t share needles, you can eliminate your risk. If you chose to have oral, anal, or vaginal sex, you can reduce your sexual risk by:

If you use injectable drugs:

The following are recommended to prevent transmission of the virus:

Q: Is HIV/AIDS a manageable disease?

Answer:  Presently there is no cure for HIV/AIDS, but people can live for many years with HIV. As treatments develop, it becomes increasingly possible to treat HIV infection as a chronic but controlled condition. It is important to seek early treatment and counseling to help improve and prolong the quality of life. Currently there is a wide range of treatments available.

Q: What is the HIV antibody test?

Answer:  The HIV Antibody test is not a test for AIDS, but rather for the antibody that forms in response to the presence of HIV in the blood. The antibody can be detected in most people within six weeks to six months from the time of infection.

Q: What does a negative test mean?


Q: What does a positive test mean?


Q: What are HIV/AIDS Symptoms?

Answer:  Most individuals infected with HIV have no symptoms and feel well. Some develop symptoms that my include tiredness, fever, loss of appetite and weight, diarrhea, night sweats, and swollen glands (lymph nodes) – usually in the neck, armpits, or groin. Anyone who has these symptoms for more than two weeks should see a doctor. The time between infection with the virus and the onset of symptoms of AIDS (the incubation period) ranges from a few months to ten years or more. Infected persons can spread the virus during the incubation period.

Early (weeks to months after exposure)

Late (years after exposure)

Note: These symptoms are not specific for HIV and may have other causes. Most persons with HIV have no symptoms at all for several years.

Q: What are some of the consequences/Complications of AIDS?


Q: Can I transmit HIV/AIDS to my baby during pregnancy or breastfeeding?


Q: What are some recommendations for reducing the spread of HIV?


Q: What are opportunistic diseases?

Answer: Most AIDS patients studied have had one or both of two rare diseases; Pneumocystis carinii pneumonia (PCP), a parasitic infection of the lungs; and a type of cancer known as Kaposi’s sarcoma (KS). KS usually occurs anywhere on the surface of the skin or in the mouth. In early stages, it may look like a bruise or blue-violet or brownish spot. The spot or spots persist, and may grow larger. KS may spread to, or appear in, other organs of the body. PCP has symptoms similar to any other form of severe pneumonia, especially cough, fever, and difficulty in breathing. There are now drugs available to help prevent PCP. Other opportunistic infections also do occur and include tuberculosis, cervical cancer, candidiasis (thrush), mycobacterial infections, retinitis, toxoplasmosis, and cryptosporidiosis to name a few.

Q: How is HIV/AIDS treated?

Answer: Currently, there are no drugs or vaccines available anywhere that have been proven to cure AIDS or prevent HIV infection, although the search for such a drug or vaccine is being pursued vigorously. Some drugs have been found that inhibit HIV replication in the body. Though no treatment has yet been successful in fully restoring the immune system of an AIDS patient, doctors have had some success in using drugs to treat the various illnesses of AIDS patients. The earlier a patient gets tested and treated, the more effective the treatment becomes.

Currently, a combination of therapies to combat the virus and restore the immune system has been the most effective treatment.

Links and Resources
HIV and Viral Hepatitis
HIV Testing
HIV Prevention
TB and HIV coinfection
STDs and HIV – CDC Fact Sheet
Información Básica Sobre El VIH - CDC
Enfermedades de Transmision of Sexual – CDC
Sexually Transmitted Disease (STD) Contact Tracing
Partner Services
STD & HIV Screening Recommendations
Syphilis and MSM – Fact Sheet
Congenital Syphilis – Fact Sheet
STDs during Pregnancy - Fact Sheet

1-800-CDC-INFO (800-232-4636)
TTY: 1-888-232-6348
In English, en Español

CDC National Prevention Information Network (NPIN)
P.O. Box 6003
Rockville, MD 20849-6003

American Sexual Health Association (ASHA)
P. O. Box 13827
Research Triangle Park, NC 27709-3827

Office Address Phone Fax
HIV Prevention Program 4815 W. Markham St., Slot 33
Little Rock, AR 72205
501-661-2408 501-661-2082

Public Health Accrediation Board
Arkansas Department of Health
© 2017 Arkansas Department of Health. All Rights Reserved.
4815 W. Markham, Little Rock, AR 72205-3867