HIV 101

HIV (Human Immunodeficiency Virus) attacks the body’s T-cells (part of the immune system) and impairs the body’s ability to fight off other infections or illness.  Once the immune system is weakened, the virus takes hold in the body and makes the person more susceptible to many illnesses.

The difference between HIV & AIDS

HIV is the virus that causes AIDS (Acquired ImmunoDeficiency Syndrome). Everyone with AIDS started off with HIV, but everyone with HIV does not necessarily progress to AIDS. Having HIV simply means that you are infected with the virus. Having AIDS means that you have HIV and you have become infected with another AIDS-defining illness (such as Tuberculosis, Kaposi’s Sarcoma, Candidiasis, etc.) and/or your T-cell count has dropped below 200. In the past, an AIDS diagnosis meant that death was near, but now, with proper medication, many people with an AIDS diagnosis return to health and live long lives.

HIV Transmission

In order to transmit HIV, you need to have a fluid and an action. HIV can be spread by the following body fluids:

  1. Blood
  2. Semen (cum)
  3. Vaginal Fluid
  4. Breast milk

HIV can spread by the following actions:

  1. Having unprotected sex (oral, anal, vaginal) with an HIV-positive person
  2. Sharing needles (drugs or tattoos) with an HIV-positive person
  3. Mother to child transmission (during pregnancy, delivery, or through breastmilk)
  4. Blood Transfusion/Organ Transplant

Signs and symptoms:

HIV has no specific signs or symptoms.  At first, some people may feel like they have a cold or the flu.  Oftentimes, if a person is not tested, they may live with HIV for 8 or 10 years before becoming sick. The only sure way to determine if you have HIV is to get tested.

HIV prevention

HIV is a completely preventable; the best way to prevent it is to protect yourself and others by:

  1. Abstaining from sex
  2. Using a condom or dental dam the correct way, every time you have sex
  3. Being in a mutually monogamous relationship, and knowing each other’s HIV status
  4. Not sharing needles, or cleaning them with bleach and water between uses


Currently, there is no cure for HIV/AIDS.  There are many treatments that may prolong a person’s life and help with the illnesses associated with HIV/AIDS.  Vaccine trials are taking place as well, in an effort to prevent the spread of HIV.  It is important to note that with proper medication, it is possible for people living with HIV to live normal, healthy, sexual lives.

Additional Resources

Student Health Services

The Body: The Complete HIV/AIDS Resource

Go Ask Alice! Health Q&A Internet Service