HIV/AIDS Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
What is HIV?
HIV is a viral infection that if left untreated, causes damage to the immune system so that a person becomes vulnerable to all kinds of infections. If untreated, HIV also causes constant inflammation which damages the body.
What is AIDS?
AIDS is a collection of life-threatening infections and cancers that occur when a person’s immune system is damaged by untreated HIV infection. AIDS is deadly if not treated.
How is HIV transmitted?
In order to cause infection, the HIV virus has to somehow enter a person’s bloodstream. It can enter through a tiny tear in the skin or through a mucous membrane like the eyes, mouth, vagina or rectum.
- HIV is most commonly transmitted through unprotected sex with an infected person that involves contact with blood, semen, vaginal fluid or other body fluid containing blood cells. Having another sexually transmitted disease (STD) can make it easier to get HIV. Having HIV can make it easier to get another STD.
- Persons sharing needles for injecting drugs can transmit HIV from one person to another.
- A person may get HIV by receiving a body-piercing or tattoo from equipment that is not properly cleaned and sterilized.
- An HIV-infected woman can transmit HIV to her baby during pregnancy and childbirth, and through breastfeeding.
- HIV can also be transmitted through receiving HIV-infected blood or tissue, such as a blood transfusion or an organ transplant. This type of transmission is very rare in the U.S. today, due to improved HIV testing and screening requirements.
How is HIV prevented?
The first and most important thing to do is to be tested and learn your HIV status. If your results are negative, HIV can be most effectively prevented by abstaining from sex or having only one sex partner who is not infected with HIV and staying faithful. Using safer sexual practices including correct and consistent use of condoms can also help prevent infection. Intravenous (IV) drug users can prevent HIV transmission by not sharing needles when injecting drugs. Pregnant women can prevent transmitting the disease to their children by getting proper care and treatment during pregnancy.
What happens if I am HIV positive?
With proper care, HIV infection can be managed, preventing the development of AIDS. Both the length and the quality of life can be greatly improved by testing and treating HIV as early as possible. Today’s HIV treatments can enable infected persons to live a normal life if they follow their doctor’s instructions.
Where can I get free condoms?
All DOH-Gulf County clinic locations have free condoms available to the public.
What is the difference between a rapid-HIV test and traditional HIV test?
The major difference between a rapid-HIV test and traditional HIV tests is the amount of time it takes for the results to be available. A rapid HIV test can provide a result in as little as 20 minutes. A traditional HIV test can generally take about two weeks for the result to be returned. Although they are very accurate and reliable, rapid tests are for screening only. A reactive rapid test needs to be confirmed with additional testing before a final result is determined.
Where can I go for testing?
To find out where to be tested, view contact your local health department HIV program. All community-based HIV test sites offer FREE testing. The Florida Department of Health in Bay County also offers HIV testing. Call other Health Departments for information about their fees.
How long does it take for HIV to show up on a blood test?
Today’s HIV screening tests will detect the infection within an average of 25 days after exposure and infection. It can sometimes take longer for HIV to be detected in a blood sample, but in most cases, detection can be made within three months (90 days) from the time of exposure and infection.
How long does it take to develop AIDS after infection with HIV?
Without treatment, most people will develop AIDS within ten years after infection with HIV. Some people may develop AIDS sooner and some later. Factors such as genetics, age, lifestyle, the presence of other health problems and drug or alcohol use can affect how long it takes to develop AIDS.
I have HIV and no medical insurance. Where can I get help with medical visits, medication, etc.?
Please contact the Florida Department of Health in Gulf County at 850-227-1276.
What number do I call to make an ADAP appointment?
What if I am pregnant? Is my baby going to get HIV too?
If a pregnant woman has HIV, she can take medication during pregnancy to prevent her baby from becoming infected. After birth, the baby will be given medicine for the first six weeks of life to make sure he or she is not infected. HIV-exposed babies should receive medical care from a HIV doctor until it is certain that the baby is not infected. HIV-infected women should not breastfeed in order to prevent transmitting the infection to infants.
What is PEP?
Post Exposure Prophylaxis (PEP) is immediate treatment that may prevent infection after being exposed to HIV. This may include:
- Unprotected sexual exposure with someone who is known to be HIV positive
- Injuries like physical or sexual assault
- Exposure through injection drug use or sharing equipment
- A needle-stick injury or an exposure to blood, semen or vaginal fluid that gets into the bloodstream via a cut or open wound-sore or comes into contact with a mucous membrane (eyes, nose, mouth).
*PEP treatment must start within 72 hours of the exposure – ideally, within the first 24 hours. PEP treatment involves taking HIV medications for 28 days. For more information please contact our office at 850-227-1276, or your personal healthcare professional.
What is PrEP?
Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis (PrEP) is treatment with medications that may prevent infection before being exposed to HIV. PrEP is not medication alone. The medication is taken daily after undergoing some laboratory testing for renal health (kidneys), laboratory screening for HIV, viral hepatitis and other STDs, medical assessment of a seropositive partner, if indicated, and a coordinated program of risk assessment, risk-reduction counseling, treatment adherence counseling and sexual health education. Persons taking PrEP should also continue to use other proven prevention strategies including condoms and safer sexual practices. The caregiver will also address other considerations for women of child-bearing age. PrEP may be provided through your local healthcare professional. PrEP is not currently available through the DOH-Gulf County.