Healthy Living

AIDS: Frequently Asked Questions

AIDS: Frequently Asked Questions


Most people have questions and want answers about what is HIV and AIDS. So let’s take a look at some common questions and answers to HIV and AIDS.

Where does HIV come from?

Scientists first became aware of the HIV virus since the early 1980s. The origin of the disease is still unknown. There are many theories and different opinions on the topic that people have tried to answer. The most supported theory is that HIV has come from chimpanzees in Africa. It is believed that HIV is was transferred to humans when humans would cut and kill chimpanzees during hunting. The blood came into contact with their skin and the virus was transferred to humans.

What is HIV?

Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) is a virus that causes AIDS (Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome). If someone has HIV that does not mean they have AIDS. This also includes being HIV-positive or having the HIV virus.

How is HIV transmitted from one person to another?

HIV can be passed to another person when different fluids such as breast milk, seminal fluid, blood, or vaginal fluid is transferred from the body of an infected person into another. The commonest ways of transmission of HIV is:

  • By vaginal, anal, or oral sexual contact with a person who has HIV.
  • By sharing any injection equipment used by a drug user who is infected by HIV.
  • Transmission from a woman with HIV to her baby either before or during birth, or even via breastfeeding.

What is AIDS?

AIDS is the final stage of the HIV virus. Many people have HIV and do not get AIDS. HIV attacks the immune system and when your immune system is weak enough you will get AIDS. So to be technical, you have AIDS when your T-cell or CD4 count is less than 200. This usually comes many years after the virus infection.

Should I get tested?

The HIV virus is usually spread by unprotected anal or vaginal sex. It is also spread by sharing needles. So it is best to get tested for HIV if you suspect anything is wrong. The best way to test if you have HIV is to get a blood test. The blood test looks for specific antibodies that are produced when you have the HIV virus in your system. There is a “window period” and what that means is there is a time frame between when the virus enters your system to when the antibodies are produced. So it is best to get tested after three months if you think you have been in contact with the virus to get an accurate result.

How long after exposure should I get tested for HIV?

The immune system takes some time to make antibodies that the HIV test can detect. This duration differs from individual to individual. Some develop the antibodies just after 15 days right up until 45 days after exposure. Even then, there is possibility that some patients may take more time to develop the antibodies that are detectable. If the first test is done in the first 3 months, then the test should be repeated after six months.

What are the screening tests for HIV?

Usually blood drawn from the veins is tested. The test checks if antibodies for HIV are present. HIV can also be tested for in other body fluids such as:

  • Urine Tests. The patient’s urine is tested in place of blood.
  • Oral Fluid Tests. Here the fluids present in the mouth other than saliva is collected in a special device and tested.
  • Rapid Tests. A rapid test produces extremely fast results within 20 to 60 minutes.
  • Home Testing Kits. This is not exactly an actual testing kit to be used at home, instead it is a home collection kit. The patient has to prick their finger, put their blood drops on a special card, and then send the card to a licensed laboratory. This kit can be found in most drug stores. When either of these tests comes back as positive, further diagnostic tests are done for confirmation.

Usually the testing accuracy and sensitivity of urine and oral tests are far less than the blood tests. Some the blood tests can detect antigens as well as antibodies within 3 weeks of exposure to the infection.

If I am pregnant should I get tested?

Yes, all pregnant women should get tested before having a baby. That way the baby will remain free of the virus and live a long and healthy life.

What if my test for HIV is positive?

If the test result is positive, then immediate steps must be taken to take care of your health. Quick medical therapy and strictly following a healthy lifestyle can easily make you live your life well. Early medical intervention can slow down the onset of AIDS and increase your quality of life. It is vital that you follow the doctor’s advice and take your medication as prescribed. Now, advanced medical treatments are helping people with HIV lead far better lives than before.

If I have HIV do I need to see a regular doctor?

There is no clean cut answer, the best answer is yes and no. There is no special HIV doctor, however, it is best to consult with a professional doctor that has experience with HIV. That way, the doctor and patient can talk about similar topics and the doctor can recommend treatment. So this is not saying that you must see a doctor who has had patients with HIV before but it is best to see a doctor who has. That way the doctor has more experience with patients and can help.

The bottom line

Now you should have a clear and more helpful understanding to some of the most common questions about AIDS and HIV. Even though HIV is a virus people still have lived long and healthy lives with HIV. It is good to do your own research to find answers to common questions as well as talk to your doctor.