What does being HIV positive mean?

HIV stands for human immunodeficiency virus, which is the virus that causes AIDS. If you are HIV-positive, it means you have this virus, and you are capable of giving it to others. It does not mean you have AIDS.

The HIV virus kills a type of white blood cell that helps your body fight disease, including cancer. These are called CD4 cells and by counting them, doctors keep an eye on whether HIV is developing into AIDS.

Once you have HIV it never goes away, but it can be treated to help you live longer and keep you healthier.

What does having AIDS mean?

AIDS stands for acquired immunodeficiency syndrome. It means that your body can no longer fight off disease like a healthy person. This might put you at risk for infections and even some types of cancer. AIDS is the last stage of HIV infection.

How do you get HIV or AIDS?

Having sex without wearing a condom is one of the most common ways to become infected with HIV/AIDS. Using condoms, which are also called rubbers, is important with any sex partner whose HIV test results you don’t know. Even so, condoms are not foolproof and in a small number of cases, the disease is passed on even while using them.

Oral sex without a condom, especially if there are sores or cuts in the mouth, can also pass along HIV in a small number of cases.

Other ways to get the virus include using the same IV drug needle as someone who has HIV/AIDS, and blood transfusions with blood that contains the virus.

Women as well as men can pass on the disease through sexual contact. It can also be passed from mother to child if the mother is infected while she is pregnant or breastfeeding.

You cannot get HIV/AIDS from an infected person’s tears or saliva.

Is there any way to prevent HIV/AIDS?

Not having sex, which is called abstinence, prevents you from getting HIV through sexual contact. Condoms also help protect you even if you do have sex. And finally, if you are an IV drug user, always using clean needles will prevent the spread of HIV.

There are also two newer methods, called PrEP and PEP, that can be effective but they require a doctor.

PrEP stands for “pre-exposure prophylaxis.” If you are at high risk of HIV exposure, doctor might recommend PrEP. PrEP is a program that includes taking the drugs used to fight HIV even though you now test negative for the virus. Depending on where you live, it can be hard to find a doctor familiar with PrEP.

PEP stands for “post-exposure prophylaxis.” It means going on anti-HIV drugs within 72 hours of exposure to HIV/AIDS. This contact might be through sex or from a workplace injury, such as a needle stick to a healthcare worker, corrections officer, emergency personnel, etc. PEP treatment lasts 28 days.

How long will I live if I am HIV/AIDS positive?

In a series of studies of 88,000 people living with HIV reported by the LANCET and conducted in 1996, 2008 and 2010, showed that with proper care and adherence to treatment, people living with HIV, once they achieve immune suppression, and maintain it, can live a normal life span.  The emphasis for achieving a normal life expectancy is getting to treatment as early as possible and staying in treatment. 

Where do I get tested for HIV/AIDS and how much does it cost?

There are many places that provide free testing. Your local county health department will have a list of testing sites. NFAN can help too. Call us at 904-356-1612. We are here 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Thursday, and 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Fridays. You can locate testing sites near you through the following website: https://locator.aids.gov/

What do HIV test results mean?

If your body is trying to fight HIV, your blood or saliva sample will show it a couple of ways. The first is your CD4 count, which is a measure of the white blood cells that HIV destroys. If these white blood cells dip below 200, you are considered to have AIDS.

The second is your viral load, which shows how much HIV is in your blood.

Both signals give your doctor information to help your body fight HIV and stay healthier. Your proof of positivity for HIV is called the POP, and you will need it to receive most HIV/AIDS services.

Will the HIV test tell me how I got the disease?

No, the test will only show if you have the signs that mean your body has HIV. It won’t tell you how you were exposed to the disease.

What do I do if I test positive for HIV/AIDS?

The first thing to do is see a healthcare provider. Whoever gives you the test results will be able to refer you. Make an appointment as soon as possible so you can start working with the provider to keep yourself healthy and learn how to avoid passing on the infection.

Your first meeting is called a “baseline evaluation,” and it will help show what stage of the disease you are in, what the best medications are for you, and answer many of the questions you will have.

NFAN can help too. Call us at 904-356-1612. We are here 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Thursday, and 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Fridays.

I am undocumented. Will ICE or other immigration police be told where to find me?

Never! NFAN is not allowed to provide this type of information to any immigration authority.

How does HIV/AIDS affect our area?

The most recent numbers (Feb., 2017) show this many people with HIV/AIDS:

  • Duval: 7,488
  • St. Johns: 418
  • Clay: 338
  • Nassau: 126
  • Baker: 58

More people in our five counties with HIV/AIDS were male:

  • Male: 72%
  • Female: 28%

The most common way these people became HIV/AIDS positive was:

  • Sexual contact by men with other men: 38%
  • Sexual contact by men with women: 36%
  • IV drug use:10%
  • Blood transfusions: Less than 1%
I have more questions. Where can I get more answers 24/7?

AIDSinfo is a great website that will answer many of your questions. It has information about HIV/AIDS drugs, a glossary of the terms you hear, and much more.