HIV/AIDS/ Viral Hepatitis 101

FAQs

If your initial HIV test came back reactive (what’s this?), a confirmatory test is required.

If your confirmatory test comes back as HIV positive, ACOS will automatically refer you to one our case managers at your discretion. Our case managers will work with you to determine what services you need including counseling, medical adherence programs, and housing assistance if applicable.

Being diagnosed as HIV positive does not mean your life is over. Many HIV positive persons live long, happy lives. The importance of knowing your status and getting the treatment you need if you are HIV positive is the first step.

HIV is the human immunodeficiency virus. It is the virus that can lead to acquired immune deficiency syndrome, or AIDS. CDC (what’s this?) estimates that about 56,000 people in the United States contracted HIV in 2006.

HIV damages a person’s body by destroying specific blood cells, called CD4+ T cells, which are crucial to helping the body fight diseases.

AIDS stands for Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome.

Acquired – means that the disease is not hereditary but develops after birth from contact with a disease-causing agent (in this case, HIV).

Immunodeficiency – means that the disease is characterized by a weakening of the immune system.

Syndrome – refers to a group of symptoms that indicate or characterize a disease. In the case of AIDS, this can include the development of certain infections and/or cancers, as well as a decrease in the number of certain specific blood cells, called CD4+ T cells, which are crucial to helping the body fight disease.

Hepatitis C is a liver disease caused by the hepatitis C virus (HCV). The virus causes the liver to form tiny scars, which, over time, join together and begin to prevent blood from flowing freely through the liver. It is a blood-borne virus.
  • HIV is spread primarily by:
    • Not using a condom when having sex with a person who has HIV. All unprotected sex with someone who has HIV contains some risk. However:
      • Unprotected anal sex is riskier than unprotected vaginal sex.
      • Among men who have sex with other men, unprotected receptive anal sex is riskier than unprotected insertive anal sex.
    • Having multiple sex partners or the presence of other sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) can increase the risk of infection during sex. Unprotected oral sex can also be a risk for HIV transmission, but it is a much lower risk than anal or vaginal sex.
    • Sharing needles, syringes, rinse water, or other equipment used to prepare illicit drugs for injection.
    • Being born to an infected mother—HIV can be passed from mother to child during pregnancy, birth, or breast-feeding.

The hepatitis C virus is present in the blood and is spread when infected blood from one person enters the body of another. The sharing of needles and drug paraphernalia while injecting drugs is the most common risk factor.

About 30% of people who have been infected with HIV (AIDS) are also infected with HCV.

Sexual transmission of hepatitis C does occur, but it is not easily spread in this manner. The risk of sexual transmission increases if you have had multiple sex partners.

Blood contamination on items that pierce the skin or come into contact with non-intact skin or mucous
membranes also pose a risk. Such items may include piercing and tattooing equipment, drug snorting equipment, military inoculation guns, razors, toothbrushes, nail clippers, etc.

Hepatitis C is NOT spread through casual contact or by swimming pools, toilets, and water fountains. It is NOT
spread by coughing, sneezing, hugging, sharing eating utensils or drinking glasses, or through breastfeeding
(unless nipples are cracked and bleeding).

There are several ways to protect yourself:

  1. Abstinence: refraining from sexual intercourse is one of the best ways to protect yourself.
  2. Practice safe sex: if you are sexually active, you should take proper precaution. Use a condom or dental dam every time. We offer free safe sex kits at our Prevention Center.
  3. Avoid stereotypes: anyone can be infected with HIV/AIDS.
  4. Educate: Learn about HIV/AIDS, its causes and consequences to better protect you and others.
  5. Get Tested: Everyone should get tested at least once. We offer free HIV and Hep C testing at our Prevention Center.
  6. Communicate: Talk to your sexual partners about your risk factors and ask them about theirs.
  7. Remember: 1 in 4 people does not know they are infected with HIV. Many people may not realize they are at risk.
  8. Avoid: sharing needs if you are an injecting drug user. Use clean needles every time. Learn more about our ENCORE Needle Exchange program if you need clean needles.

Always wash hands thoroughly with soap and water after blood exposure. Wear gloves when cleaning up blood. Wash blood- contaminated surfaces with soap and water and then disinfect with a bleach and water solution (1part bleach to 10 parts water). Healthcare professionals should always follow routine barrier precautions and safely handle needles and other sharps.

Injection drug users should make sure that needles, syringes, and works are sterile and never shared. Never draw drugs out of a supply that has been mixed in a shared and possibly contaminated container. When getting a tattoo or body piercing, make sure the artist uses sterile needles, tools, and ink and follows good health practices.

Practice safer sex by using latex condoms. Do not share personal items that may have your blood on them such as razors, nail files, and toothbrushes.

At this time, there is no cure for AIDS. Antiretroviral treatments can suppress HIV and delay the onset of AIDS for many years. With advanced scientific research and new antiretroviral treatments, HIV positive persons are living longer.
Information in this section is provided by the Center for Disease Control, www.cdc.gov, and Hep C Connection, www.hepc-connection.org.