HIV stands for human immunodeficiency virus. It is the virus that can lead to acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS) if not treated. Unlike some other viruses, the human body can’t get rid of human immunodeficiency virus completely, even with treatment. So, once you get human immunodeficiency virus, you have it for life.
HIV attacks the body’s immune system, specifically the CD4 cells (T cells), which help the immune system fight off infections. Untreated, HIV reduces the number of T cells in the body, making the person more likely to get other infections or infection-related cancers. Over time, human immunodeficiency virus can destroy so many of these cells that the body can’t fight off infections and disease. These opportunistic infections or cancers take advantage of a week immune system and signal that the person has AIDS, the last stage of HIV infection.
No effective cure currently exists, but with proper medical care, HIV can be controlled. The medicine used to treat HIV is called antiretroviral therapy or ART. If taken the right way, every day, this medicine can dramatically prolong the lives of many people infected with HIV, keep them healthy, and significantly lower their chance of infecting others. Before the introduction of ART in the mid-1990s, people with human immunodeficiency virus could progress to AIDS in just a few years. Today, someone diagnosed with HIV and treated before the disease is far advanced can live nearly as long as someone who does not have human immunodeficiency virus.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that everyone 13 to 64 years old gets tested for HIV at least once and that people at high risk of the infection get tested more often. Risk factors for HIV infection include: having unprotected sex (sex without a condom) with someone who is HIV positive or whose human immunodeficiency virus status you don’t know; having sex with many partners; and injecting drugs and sharing needles, syringes, or other drug equipment with others. The CDC recommends that all pregnant women get tested for human immunodeficiency virus as early as possible during each pregnancy.
[Sources: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services; and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention]
About HIV Testing
The only way to know for sure whether you have human immunodeficiency virus is to get tested. CDC recommends that everyone between the ages of 13 and 64 gets tested for human immunodeficiency virus at least once as part of routine health care and that people at high risk of infection get tested more often.
Knowing your HIV status gives you powerful information to help you take steps to keep you and your partner healthy.
The HIV Antibody test shows if you have antibodies to HIV in your body. (HIV antibodies are a sign that human immunodeficiency virus has entered your body.) A blood sample will be taken from you and be tested. If the first test shows that you have the antibodies, a different test will be done to make sure the first test was right. The test for HIV antibodies is exceptionally accurate and reliable. However, in rare instances, the test may be positive in individuals who are not infected with the virus (false positive), and occasionally it may be negative in persons infected with human immunodeficiency virus (false negative), especially when infection occurred within the 3-6 months before testing.
A negative test means you’re probably not infected with HIV. But it takes the body time to produce HIV antibodies. It may just be too soon for the antibodies to be seen in the test. If you recently had sex without a condom or shared needles with someone who may be infected, you may want to be tested again in three to six months. Please talk to your doctor about this.
A positive confirmatory test result means you are infected with human immunodeficiency virus. It doesn’t necessarily mean you have AIDS, but HIV is the virus that causes AIDS. It also means you could give the virus to other people. People who are infected can pass the virus during sex or by sharing needles during drug use. A pregnant woman who is infected can pass the virus to her baby during pregnancy or childbirth.
If you test positive for human immunodeficiency virus, you should see your primary care physician for a referral to an Infectious Disease physician or seek information from your local health department.
[Sources: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services; Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; and Connecticut Department of Public Health]