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HIV & AIDS 101


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HIV & AIDS 101


How long after possible exposure should I wait to be tested for HIV? 

Generally, it is recommended that you wait three months after possible exposure before being tested for HIV. Although HIV antibody tests are very sensitive, there is a ‘window period’ of 3 to 12 weeks, which is the period between infection with HIV and the appearance of detectable antibodies to the virus. In the case of the most sensitive antibodies, HIV tests currently recommended, the window period is about three weeks. This period maybe longer if less sensitive tests are used.  During the window period, people infected with HIV have no antibodies in their blood that  can be detected by an HIV test. However, the person may already have high levels of HIV in their body fluids such as blood, semen, vaginal fluids and breast milk. HIV can be passed on to another person during the window period even though an HIV test may not show that you are infected with HIV.


What is HIV?

HIV stands for ‘human immunodeficiency virus’. HIV is a virus (of the type called retrovirus) that infects cells of the human immune system (mainly CD4 positive T cells and macrophages—key components of the cellular immune system), and destroys or impairs their function. Infection with this virus results in the progressive deterioration of the immune system, leading to ‘immune deficiency’.

The immune system is considered deficient when it can no longer fulfill its role of fighting off infections and diseases. Immunodeficient people are more susceptible to a wide r ange of infections, most of which are rare among people without immune deficiency. Infections associated with severe immunodeficiency are known as ‘opportunistic infections’, because they take advantage of a weakened immune system.

AIDS stands for ‘acquired immunodeficiency syndrome’ and is a surveillance definition based on signs, symptoms, infections, and cancers associated with the deficiency of the immune system that stems from infection with HIV.

HIV can be transmitted: Blood, Semen, Vaginal secretions, Breast milk

Activities That Allow HIV Transmission  

  • Unprotected sexual contact
  • Direct blood contact, including injection drug needles, blood transfusions, accidents in health care settings or certainblood products
  • Mother to baby (before or during birth, or through breast milk)

What are the symptoms of HIV?

 Most people infected with HIV do not know that they have become infected, because they do not feel ill immediately after infection. However, some people at the time of seroconversion develop “Acute retroviral syndrome” which is a glandular fever-like illness with fever, rash, joint pains and enlarged lymph nodes. Seroconversion refers to the development of antibodies to HIV and usually takes place between 1 and 6 weeks after HIV infection has happened. Whether or not HIV infection causes initial symptoms, an HIV-infected person is highly infectious during this initial period and can transmit the virus to another person. The only way to determine whether HIV is present in a person’s body is by testing for HIV antibodies or for HIV itself.


What do I do if I have HIV?

 Thanks to new treatments, many people with HIV are living longer, healthier lives. It is very important to make sure you have a doctor who knows how to treat HIV. A healthcare

 professional or trained HIV counselor can provide counseling and help you to find an appropriate doctor at www.hivmemphis.org.