Frequently Asked Questions About HIV and AIDS

How Is HIV Passed From One Person to Another?

The most common ways that someone can get HIV are by:

  • Having sex (anal, vaginal, or oral) with a person who has HIV
  • Sharing drug needles or other drug equipment with someone who has HIV

Women with HIV can pass it to their babies before or during birth, and through breastfeeding.



Can Latex Condoms Prevent HIV?

When used consistently and correctly, they’re very good at stopping the spread of HIV during sex. But condom use can’t give you perfect protection.

If either partner is allergic to latex, try plastic (polyurethane) condoms. You can get them for both men and women.

The surest ways to avoid getting HIV are to not have sex or to be in a long-term relationship with a partner who’s tested negative and you’re exclusive with each other.



Can I Get HIV From Oral Sex?

Yes, it’s possible — whether you’re giving or getting oral sex. While no one knows exactly how risky it is, evidence suggests it has less of a risk than unprotected anal or vaginal sex.

You should use protection for oral sex, too: A latex condom on a man, and a latex barrier between a woman’s vagina and their partner’s mouth. This barrier could be a natural rubber latex sheet, a dental dam, or a cut-open condom that makes a square. In a pinch, you can even use plastic food wrap.



Can I Get HIV From Anal Sex?

Yes. In fact, anal sex without a condom is very risky behavior. Either sex partner can become infected with HIV.

When you have anal sex, use a latex condom. They’re more likely to break during anal than vaginal sex, so also use a lot of water-based lubricant to lower the chance of that happening.



How Can I Tell if I Have HIV? Are There Symptoms?

Many people who have HIV don’t have any symptoms at all for many years. The only way to know if you’re infected is to get tested.

Don’t wait for symptoms to show up. If you find out you’re infected soon after it happens, you’ll have more options for treatment and care to help prevent you from getting sick.



How Do I Get Tested for HIV?

Most often, a technician or doctor will draw blood from your vein and check it to see if there are antibodies for HIV. You can also test other body fluids — oral fluid (not saliva, collected from your mouth using a special device) or urine — but these aren’t as sensitive or accurate as traditional blood tests. Some rapid screening tests can give results in 20-60 minutes.

Current blood tests can find both antibodies and a part of the virus itself. These could give a positive result as soon as 3 weeks after HIV exposure.

Home testing kits found at drugstores are really home collection kits. You prick your finger with a special device, place drops of blood on a specially treated card, and then mail the card in for testing at a licensed lab.

If any of these screening tests say you’re positive, follow up with a doctor and more testing to confirm it.



Where Can I Get an HIV Test?

Common places include your local health department, a clinic, your doctor’s office, a hospital, and other sites set up specifically for HIV testing.

Check or, or call 800-CDC-INFO (800-232-4636) to find somewhere close to you.



How Long Should I Wait to Get Tested for HIV?

Most people will develop enough antibodies to test positive within 2 to 8 weeks after they’re exposed to the virus. The average is 20 days to 25 days. Even so, there’s a chance it could take longer. If you think you’ve been exposed and your HIV test within the first 3 months was negative, get another test at 6 months.



Why Should All Pregnant Women Get Tested for HIV?

HIV-positive mothers who get treatment during pregnancy have a much lower chance of passing HIV to their baby before, during, or after birth.

The sooner you start treatment, the more effective it is.



What If I Test Positive for HIV?

Prompt, early medical treatment and a healthy lifestyle can help you stay well. We have more and better treatments today, and people are living longer and with a better quality of life than ever before. In fact, depending on what else is going on with their health, HIV-infected persons who get on and stay on their medicines can expect to live almost as long as people who don’t have HIV.

You’ll need to keep your dctor appointments, take your HIV medicines exactly as directed, and take steps so others don’t get the virus from you.



How Long Does It Take for HIV to Cause AIDS?

Before HIV medicines became available, Scientists used to think that about half the people with HIV would developed AIDS within 10 years after they were infected. However, current drug therapies have dramatically changed the outlook for people living with HIV. If you start HIV medicines early in the course of your infection, keep your medical appointments, and stay on your medicines, you may never develop HIV-related illnesses.

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