HIV 101

HIV 101 for LEARN

What is HIV?

HIV 101HIV stands for human immunodeficiency virus. “Human” means that this particular virus infects only human beings. “Immunodeficiency” means it attacks the immune system, the body’s natural defense system against disease and infection. “Virus” means it is a microscopic organism that needs a living host to grow and reproduce. HIV uses specific cells of your immune system to grow. When HIV has used one of these cells to grow, the cell can no longer function effectively, leaving your body without a part of its immune system.

What is AIDS?

AIDS stands for acquired immune deficiency syndrome. AIDS is the final stage of HIV infection which means that a person diagnosed with AIDS has HIV but a person diagnosed with HIV does not necessarily have AIDS. It can take years for a person infected with HIV, even without treatment, to reach an AIDS diagnosis. AIDS is commonly diagnosed one of two ways.

  1. By the presence of one or more opportunistic infections or
  2. When a person’s CD4 cell count (cells in the immune system) falls below 200.

AIDS can only be diagnosed by a doctor

How is HIV transmitted?

HIV is spread most commonly through blood, semen, vaginal fluids, and breast milk. People get HIV from contact with these fluids. There are four common modes of HIV transmission:

  1.  Unprotected Sexual Contact
  2.  Blood Contact or IV Drug Use
  3. Mother to Child transmission

HIV is not spread through everyday contact such as hugging, kissing, using the same toilet, or via insect bites.

How can I protect myself?

The most important thing to know about HIV/AIDS is that it is preventable. If you abstain from IV drug use and risky sexual contact, you are virtually at no risk for transmission of HIV.

Otherwise, the following easy risk reduction practices can help to decrease your chances of HIV transmission:

  • Practice Safer Sex. Many of the things that feel good are safe because no blood, semen, or vaginal secretions get into the body. This includes hugging, kissing, fantasizing, masturbation, and massage.
  • Use Safer Sex Materials.
    • Latex or synthetic (polyisoprene) condoms. Unless you are 100% sure your partner is not infected with HIV, reduce your risk by using a latex or synthetic condom (rubber) from start to finish every time you have sex.
    • Use spermicides. Spermicides found in birth control foams, jellies, and lubricants are best used along with condoms, not in place of them.
    • Use only water-based lubricants. Lubricants containing oil, like Vaseline(R) petroleum jelly, can damage a condom and cause it to break.
  • Never share needles. If you shoot drugs, seek help to stop. If you must share, clean your needle.
  • Don’t mix alcohol or other drugs with sex. They might cloud your judgment and lead to unsafe sex.
  • Don’t share sex toys. They have body fluids and possibly blood on them.
  • Get tested. If you have ever done IV drugs or engaged in risky sexual contact, get tested; then you can have peace of mind.

Current Statistics

  • The United States has one of the largest HIV epidemics in the world, with an estimated 1.2 million people. (
  • 1 in every 8 people living with HIV in the U.S. are unaware that they are infected. (
  • Compared with other races and ethnicities, African Americans account for a higher proportion of new HIV infections, those living with HIV, and those ever diagnosed with AIDS. (
  • 1/3 of the general US population believes at least ONE myth about HIV transmission (POZ Magazine)
  • More than 20,000 people have been diagnosed with HIV in Washington State (Washington State Department of Health)
  • 85% of persons living with HIV/AIDS in Washington state are male. (Washington State Department of Health)
  •  Pierce County has the second highest incidence of new HIV infections. (Washington State Department of Health)
  • 35% of those infected with HIV/AIDS in Pierce County are people of color (Washington State Department of Health)

Medication Adherence (taking your meds)

adherence1Medication adherence or treatment adherence refers to taking medication exactly as prescribed by a doctor. Taking the right medication at the same time every day, without missing a dose, can help make the medication be more effective and can prevent drug resistance.

  • Only half of Americans diagnosed with HIV are receiving treatment, and only 28% of all Americans with HIV have virus levels that are fully suppressed. (

medication adherence