What is HIV?

HIV stands for Human Immunodeficiency Virus.

Human Immunodeficiency Virus, or HIV, is a disease that weakens your immune system and makes it harder for your body to fight infections. If your immune system becomes too weak, infections and cancers that your body could normally fight off can easily take over. This is the last stage of an HIV infection, and at this point, the individual has Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome, or AIDS.

How Can I Get HIV?1

You can get HIV from:

  • Condomless anal or vaginal sex with someone who is HIV-positive
  • Sharing used needles with someone who is HIV-positive

In very rare cases, you can get HIV from:

  • Oral sex
  • Blood transfusions with HIV-contaminated blood
  • If blood with HIV mixes with blood without HIV, such as during:
    • Contact between bleeding gums or mouth sores
    • Contact between wounds

You cannot get HIV from:

  • Air or water
  • Saliva, sweat, tears, or kissing
  • Hugging or shaking hands
  • Insects or animals
  • Sharing toilets, food, or drinks

Do I have HIV?

It’s hard to tell if you HIV from its symptoms alone. Some people start to feel sick within their first month of being infected with HIV. Others will feel healthy. During the first stage of an HIV infection, you might test negative for HIV, but that doesn’t always mean the HIV is untransmittable. You’re still at risk of spreading the virus to other sexual partners.

The only way to know for sure if you have HIV is to get tested and to get tested often.

If you think you have a high risk of getting HIV, PrEP may be a useful tool for you.