HIV (Human Immunodeficiency Virus) is the virus that causes AIDS (Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome). People can have HIV without having AIDS.
Transmission of HIV:
HIV is not transmitted by normal social contact with a person who has HIV. HIV is carried in the blood and most body fluids. The most common modes of transmission are through sexual contact and by contact with infected blood, most often as a result of needle sharing. HIV can also be transmitted through the placenta from mother to fetus, and also through breast milk from mother to infant.
Groups at risk for HIV infection:
- Men who have had sex with men.
- Intravenous drug users.
- People who have had sex with any of the people above.
- People who have been sexually active in countries where HIV is epidemic.
- People who have had a blood transfusion of blood or blood products, or who have
received a transplant of an organ, bone, or other tissue between 1977 and 1985.
- People who have had syphilis and gonorrhea since 1980.
- Health care workers, emergency service personnel, or other persons who have experienced a substantial exposure to blood or secretions.
- Men or women who have had sex with more than three partners in the past year.
The HIV Antibody Test:
The HIV antibody test is a blood test that identifies persons who have become infected with HIV. It does not test for the virus itself, or for AIDS. If you belong to any of the risk groups above, you should be tested for HIV.
A Negative Test Result: A negative test means that antibodies to HIV cannot be detected. This usually means that the person has never been infected with HIV and is not now carrying the virus. A negative test cannot tell that a person will not get AIDS in the future. It only means that HIV infection has not yet occurred, or that the infection happened too recently for the test to turn positive. In almost all cases, the blood test becomes positive with three months after infection occurs, although it can take up to six months for a test to detect antibodies. Therefore, if a person was infected very recently, a negative result could be wrong.
A positive test result:
A positive test means that HIV antibodies are detectable in the blood. It cannot determine the time of infection. A positive HIV test result does not mean a person has AIDS. A positive test result does mean that precautions must be taken to prevent infecting others. That means a person with a positive test should never donate blood, plasma, semen, other tissues or organs, never share needles, and never have unprotected intercourse (sex without a condom).
Accuracy of the test:
No test is 100% accurate. An incorrect result is rare, but it is possible. An HIV test result is over 99% accurate. Occasionally, a result is indeterminate (when it is unclear whether the test is positive or negative). When a test result does not seem to make sense, a repeat test or special confirmation tests help to determine the correct result.
Reducing risk of transmission:
- Practicing safe sex.
- Do not share needles or drug works, sex toys, toothbrushes, razors, or other devices that could come in contact with someone else's blood, semen, or body fluids.
For more information, other resources and links:
Centers for Disease Control
Government organization that researches and tracks infectious diseases. Excellent source for STD and HIV/AIDS information.
National AIDS Hotline 1-800-342-AIDS
Washington State Department of Health
State department that provides information and statistics regarding public health care services.
Washington State AIDS Hotline 1-800-272-AIDS
Seattle & King County Public Health HIV/AIDS Program
HIV/AIDS and STD information, referral and resources.
HIV-STD Hotline 206-205-STDS
Northwest AIDS Foundation
Regional care and advocacy organization for those affected by HIV and AIDS.