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HIV doesn't discriminate. Black, Latina, Native American, Asian, straight, lesbian, gay, or bisexual, male, female, transgender -- anyone can become infected with HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, because it's not who you are but what you do that puts you at risk for getting HIV.

General Information

AIDS stands for Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome. It's caused by a virus called HIV, the Human Immunodeficiency Virus, that weakens the body's immune system (your defense against infections) so that it loses the ability to fight off infection and illnesses. Some medicines can lengthen the lives of people with AIDS, but there is no cure. The best way to combat the virus is to keep yourself from getting it.

You can get HIV through direct contact with blood, semen, vaginal fluids, and breast milk.

You can get the virus by:

  • Exchanging blood, semen, and vaginal secretions through vaginal, oral, or anal intercourse with someone who has HIV. During vaginal intercourse, the risk of becoming infected is higher for women than men, because HIV is more easily transmitted from man to woman.
  • Sharing needles or syringes used for injecting drugs, medicine, tattooing, or ear piercing with someone who has HIV.
  • Being born to a mother who has the virus ( HIV can be passed to a fetus through the umbilical cord while it is still inside the mother, through contact with vaginal fluids and blood during birth or through breast milk.)

You can't get it from:

  • Touching, talking to, or sharing a home with a person who is HIV infected or has AIDS
  • Sharing utensils, such as forks and spoons, used by someone with HIV infection or AIDS
  • Using swimming pools, hot tubs, drinking fountains, toilet seats, doorknobs, gym equipment, or telephones used by people with HIV infection or AIDS
  • Having someone with HIV or AIDS hug, kiss, spit, sneeze, cough, breathe, sweat, or cry on you
  • Being bitten by mosquitoes
  • Donating blood. A new needle is used for every donor. You do not come into contact with anyone else's blood. Donated blood is always screened for HIV so the risk of infection from a blood transfusion is very, very low.


Maybe you have heard the term HIV-positive. It means that an antibody test has shown that someone has been infected with HIV. It does not necessarily mean that a person has AIDS right now.

People with HIV may not know or show that they carry the virus for up to 15 years and possibly longer. They may look, act, and feel healthy, but can still infect others with HIV through unsafe sex and sharing needles.

You can protect yourself from HIV infection by making smart decisions about sex and drugs. Some things are very risky to do, some less risky, and some are 100 percent safe. Of course, the surest way to avoid the virus is to choose not to have sexual intercourse - vaginal, oral, or anal - and not to do drugs.

Using any drugs at all, including alcohol, is risky. Drugs cloud your judgment and may lead you to make unsafe choices. If you choose to have sexual intercourse, you can protect yourself by practicing safer activities or using latex condoms. Of course, condoms are also a safe, effective, and inexpensive form of birth control, so you can protect yourself from unwanted pregnancy at the same time. They also protect you from sexually transmitted diseases, STDs.


Deciding to get tested for HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, is a big decision. Making the choice to get tested can be difficult. Hopefully this information will help you make that decision.

There are lots of reasons that people get tested for HIV. Maybe you're sexually active and have engaged in behaviors that put you are risk of HIV infection. Maybe you're starting a new relationship and have decided to get tested together. Whatever the case, here are some of the reasons why you should consider getting tested for HIV.

If you:

  • had sexual intercourse (vaginal, oral, or anal) without a condom
  • learned that a partner was not monogamous
  • have been sexually assaulted
  • had a condom break
  • shared needles or syringes to inject drugs (including steroids) or for body piercing, tattooing, or any other reason
  • had multiple sexual partners
  • found out that a partner has shared needles
  • learned that a past or current partner is HIV-positive
  • discovered that a partner has been exposed to HIV had a recent diagnosis of another sexually transmitted disease (STD)
  • are pregnant.

HIV tests can tell if you have been infected with HIV. When HIV infection occurs, the body develops antibodies to the virus. The HIV test checks to see if your body is making these antibodies. It doesn't test for AIDS.

There are three different ways to be tested for HIV. A blood sample can be taken from your arm, fluids can be taken from cells in the mouth, or a urine sample may be used instead. Then the sample is tested for HIV antibodies. If HIV antibodies are found, the sample is tested again. Then a different test is used to confirm the results. It usually takes about a week or two to get your results.

A positive test result means that your body is making HIV antibodies. If the test finds antibodies, that means you are infected with HIV. It doesn't mean you have AIDS or will get sick soon.

A negative test result means no HIV antibodies were found in your body. But, you could still be infected if you have been exposed to HIV in the last six months. Your body may not have made enough HIV antibodies to show up yet. Consider getting tested again in a few months.

If you test positive...

  • Find a doctor who has experience with HIV treatment. The earlier you begin treatment, the more likely the virus will move slowly, so you can stay healthy longer. Many HIV positive people live for many years without developing AIDS - but the odds are better the earlier you start treatment.
  • Get counseling. Counseling can help you and your loved ones learn to live with HIV. Notify current and past sexual partners that you are infected with HIV and that they may be infected with HIV.
  • Practice abstinence. It's the only sure way to avoid getting another strain of HIV or spreading it to others.
  • Practice safer sex. Use a latex condom during each act of vaginal, oral, or anal intercourse.
  • Contact an HIV/AIDS service organization in your area or your state or local health department to find available resources.

If you test negative...

  • Practice abstinence. It's the only sure way to avoid getting HIV.
  • Practice safer sex. Use a latex condom during each act of vaginal, oral, or anal intercourse.
  • Don't share needles or syringes to inject drugs or for any other reason.
  • Remember, if you had unprotected sex or any other risky behavior that can transmit HIV in the last six months prior to getting tested, you will need to get a follow-up test in six months to be sure you are not infected.

In most states, you can find testing sites that offer anonymous or confidential HIV testing.

Anonymous testing is available in some places and through HIV home testing kits. Anonymous testing uses code numbers or names to identify your test. Your name is never used. You use the code to get your results. You are the only person who knows your results. With anonymous testing, you get to decide who to tell and when.

With confidential testing, your name is used. Therefore, your name and other identifying information is attached to your test results, but kept private. However, health care providers, your insurance company, and, in some states, the health department will have access to your test results.

Some people prefer to get tested for HIV without having it listed in their medical record or insurance file. Be sure to find out who will have access to your test results before you get tested. Some testing sites offer the test for free, while others charge a fee for the test. Ask before you get tested.

Depending on where you live, you can get tested at any of several places. Testing may be offered at your local:

  • STD clinic
  • family planning clinic
  • community health center
  • doctor's office
  • hospital.
  • Or ask your health care provider or health department.

It is important to get tested at a place that also offers counseling about HIV and AIDS. Counselors can answer questions you may have about risky behaviors and ways to protect yourself and others in the future. In addition, counselors can help you understand the meaning of test results and tell you about HIV/AIDS resources in your area.

To find a testing site near you, call the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention National STD and AIDS Hotlines. This is a 24-hour, confidential hotline.

1-800-342-AIDS (1-800-342-2437) English
1-800-344-SIDA (1-800-3447432) Spanish
1-800-AIDS-TTY (1-800-243-7889) TYY

The National HIV Testing Resources provides information on counseling and testing, and resources for people who test positive.

More Information

The following links contain more information on this subject.