The Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) is the virus that leads to Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome (AIDS). There is an interval (sometimes years) between the initial infection and the onset of symptoms. Upon entering the bloodstream through mucous membranes or blood-to-blood contact, HIV infects the white blood cells and begins to replicate itself. Gradual deterioration of the immune system leads to the condition known as AIDS.
Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome (AIDS) is the final stage of HIV infection. The Centers for Disease Control established the definition of AIDS, which occurs in HIV-infected persons with fewer than 200 T-cells cells (cells that attack infections) and/or persons with HIV who develop certain opportunistic infections.
HIV infection most commonly occurs through sexual contact. However, the virus can also be spread through blood-to-blood contact such as sharing needles or blood transfusions involving unscreened blood. Studies have shown that HIV is not transmitted through casual contact such as touching or sharing towels, bedding, utensils, telephones, swimming pools, or toilet seats. Scientists have also found no evidence of transmission through kissing, sweat, tears, urine or feces. HIV is transmitted through blood, semen (including “pre-cum”), vaginal fluids and breast milk. High-risk behaviors that can result in HIV transmission are sharing needles for drugs, tattoos, body piercing or steroids with an HIV-infected person and/or engaging in unprotected anal, vaginal or oral sex with a person who is HIV infected. The virus also can be transmitted from an HIV-infected mother to her child through pregnancy, birth or breastfeeding. Persons already infected with a sexually transmitted infection (STI) are more susceptible to acquiring HIV during sex with an infected partner.
The only way to determine HIV infection is to be tested for the virus. It is not unusual for HIV-infected persons to experience symptoms years after the initial infection; some may be symptom free for over 10 years. However, during this period, the virus is actively multiplying and destroying cells in the immune system, weakening the body’s ability to fight infection. There are medical treatments that can reduce the rate at which HIV disables the immune system. Early detection offers more options for treatment and preventative care. As a matter of safety, people who engage in high-risk behaviors such as intravenous drug use or having unprotected sex with multiple partners should be tested regularly.
Call your doctor or the Guilford County Department of Public Health if you think you may have a HIV. To make an appointment in either the Greensboro or High Point clinical locations, please call 336-641-3245. The cost is free at both sites and all services are confidential. If you have questions about the test, call 336-641-3245.
HIV/AIDS Fact Sheet (PDF)