What is HIV?

HIV stands for Human Immunodeficiency Virus. This is the virus which causes AIDS. A virus is a smallest living organism. This virus attacks human immune system (Fighting system against infections) and so humans become more prone for various infections.

What is AIDS?

AIDS stands for ‘Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome’. This term applies to the most advanced stages of HIV infection. HIV is a virus spread through body fluids that affects specific cells of the immune system, called CD4 cells, or T cells. Over time, HIV can destroy so many of these cells that the body can’t fight off infections and disease. When this happens, HIV infection leads to AIDS. In short AIDS is the stage of infection that occurs when your immune system is badly damaged and you become vulnerable to opportunistic infections.

How is HIV transmitted?

HIV transmission can occur when blood, semen, pre-seminal fluid, vaginal fluid, or breast milk from an infected person enters the body of an uninfected person.

These are the most common ways that HIV is transmitted from one person to another:

Through the use of unsterilized needles or sharing of contaminated needles, syringes or other sharp instruments.

Through Infected – blood that contains HIV is given to a person through blood transfusion.

From HIV-infected women to their babies before or during birth, or through breastfeeding after birth.

Penetrative sex without protection (anal, vaginal, or oral) with an HIV-infected person

How long does it take for HIV to cause AIDS?

The length of time can vary widely between individuals. The time between acquiring HIV infection and developing an AIDS is usually varies between 2 to 8 years but sometimes longer. Antiretroviral therapy (ART) can slow the disease progression by preventing the virus replicating and therefore decreasing the amount of virus in an infected person’s blood (known as the ‘viral load’).

Where can I get tested for HIV?

Free & confidential HIV testing is done at the Government based Integrated Counselling & Testing Centre (ICTC) in major cities as well as smaller towns in India.

In ICTC person is properly counselled and then tested for HIV.

HIV test can also be done in any licensed Pathology laboratory.

How long it takes for HIV test to become positive? What is window period?

It can take some time for the immune system to produce enough antibodies for the HIV test to detect. This time period can vary from person to person. Most people will develop detectable antibodies within two to eight weeks (the average is 20 days to 25 days) of exposure. Even so, there is a chance that some people will take longer to develop detectable antibodies. If the initial negative HIV test was conducted within the first three months after possible exposure, repeat testing should be done at six months.

The HIV test done before development of antibodies turn as negative but the person carries high HIV viruses in his blood. This period is called as window period.

Is there a cure for HIV?

No, there is no cure for HIV. But with good and continued adherence to ART, the progression of HIV in the body can be slowed to a near halt. Increasingly, people living with HIV can remain well and productive for extended periods of time, even in low-income countries.

What does HIV positive mean? If I test Positive, does that mean that I will die?

Testing positive for HIV means that one carries the virus that causes AIDS.

Being infected with HIV does not mean that one gets AIDS right at the moment nor does it mean that the individual will die. However, if left untreated, HIV infection damages a person’s immune system and can progress to AIDS soon.

What shall I do if I test positive for HIV?

If you test positive for HIV, the sooner you take steps to protect your health the better. Early medical treatment and a healthy lifestyle can help you stay well. In time medical advice, knowledgeable doctor, prompt medical care, regular follow up and tests may delay the onset of AIDS.

It is very important to take your HIV medicines exactly as directed. We have better treatments today, and people are living longer and better quality of life than ever before. There is much you can do to stay healthy and protect others even you are HIV positive.

What is the benefit of an HIV test?

Knowing your HIV status can have 2 important benefits.

  • If you learn that you are HIV positive, you can take steps before symptoms appear to access treatment, care and support, thereby potentially prolonging your life and preventing health complications for many years.
  • If you know that you are infected, you can take precautions to prevent the spread of HIV to others.

How will I know that I am suffering from HIV?

The only way to know if you are infected is to be tested for HIV infection. You cannot rely on symptoms to know whether or not you are infected. Many people who are infected with HIV do not have any symptoms at all for many years. So if you are exposed to any way of HIV transmission, it’s better to get tested.

How Does HIV Progress In Your Body?

Without treatment, HIV advances in stages, destroying your immune system and getting worse over time. The three stages of HIV infection are: (1) acute HIV infection, (2) clinical latency, and (3) AIDS (acquired immunodeficiency syndrome).

However, there’s good news: by using HIV medicines (called antiretroviral therapy or ART) consistently, you can prevent HIV from progressing to AIDS. ART helps control the virus so that you can live a longer, healthier life and reduce the risk of transmitting HIV to others.

These are the three stages of HIV infection :

Acute HIV Infection Stage

2 to 4 weeks after HIV infection, many, but not all, people develop flu-like symptoms. E.g. – fever, swollen glands, sore throat, rash, muscle and joint pains, and headache. This is called “acute retroviral syndrome” (ARS) or “primary HIV infection,” and it’s the body’s natural response to the HIV infection.

During this early period of infection, large amounts of virus are being produced in your body. During the acute HIV infection stage, you are at high risk of transmitting HIV to your sexual partners because the levels of HIV viruses in your blood stream are very high.

Clinical Latency Stage

After the acute stage of HIV infection, the disease moves into a stage called the “clinical latency” stage. “Latency” means a period where a virus is living or developing in a person without producing symptoms. During the clinical latency stage, people who are infected with HIV experience no symptoms, or only mild ones. (This stage is sometimes called “asymptomatic HIV infection” or “chronic HIV infection.”)

During this stage, the HIV virus continues to reproduce at very low levels, although it is still active. If you take ART, you may live with clinical latency for several decades because treatment helps to keep the virus in check. The duration of clinical latency stage varies from person to person. But it is usually from 2 to 10 years. People in this symptom-free stage are still able to transmit HIV to others, even if they are on ART, although ART greatly reduces the risk of transmission.

If you have HIV and you are not on ART, then eventually your viral load will begin to rise and your CD4 count will begin to decline.


This is the stage of HIV infection that occurs when your immune system is badly damaged and you become vulnerable to opportunistic infections. When the number of your CD4 cells falls below 200, you are considered to have progressed to AIDS. (In someone with a healthy immune system, CD4 counts are between 500 and 1,600) You are also considered to have progressed to AIDS if you develop one or more opportunistic illnesses, regardless of your CD4 count.

  • Skin infections and rashes
  • Rapid weight loss
  • Fever and profuse night sweats
  • Extreme and unexplained tiredness
  • Prolonged swelling of the lymph glands in the armpits, groin, or neck
  • On and off loose motions
  • ulcers of the mouth, anus, or genitals
  • Cough with expectoration and breathlessness
  • Headache and convulsions
  • Memory loss, depression, and other neurologic disorders.

In India in many cases HIV infection is detected when patients get full blown AIDS where CD4 is very low.

Without treatment, people who progress to AIDS typically survive about 3 years. Once you have a dangerous opportunistic illness, life-expectancy without treatment falls to about 1 year. However, if you are taking ART and maintain a low viral load, then you may enjoy a near normal life span. You will most likely never progress to AIDS.

What is the most common life-threatening opportunistic infection affecting people living with HIV/AIDS?

Tuberculosis (TB) kills nearly 360 000 people living with HIV each year. It is the number one cause of death among HIV-infected people in India, and a leading cause of death in this population worldwide.

What is the roll of CD4 count?

The CD4 cells are like a snapshot of how well your immune system is functioning. CD4 cells (also known as CD4 T cells) are white blood cells that fight infection. The more you have is better. These are the cells which are killed by the HIV and decrease the immune system of the person. To monitor the health of your immune system, your doctor will check your CD4 count i.e. the number of CD4 cells in your blood. You should have your CD4 count tested every three to six months.

A normal CD4 count is more than 500 cells. Your CD4 count is also used to decide when to start antiretroviral therapy (ART). Generally, when CD4 count is below 350 cells/mm3 ART is started for HIV infected person.

If your CD4 count drops to below 200, you are said to have AIDS.

What is ART?

Antiretroviral Treatment (ART) is a combination of drugs. These drugs are used in the treatment and prevention of HIV infection. They fight HIV by stopping or interfering with the reproduction of the virus in the body, reducing the amount of virus in the body.

Where can I get ART?

All District and Corporation hospitals provide ART drugs free of the costs to HIV positive people in India. Otherwise you can get these drugs with a Doctor’s prescription.

How HIV is not spread:-

HIV is NOT spread by:

  • Air or water
  • Insects, including mosquitoes or ticks, scratches
  • Saliva, tears, or sweat
  • Casual contact, like shaking hands, hugging or sharing dishes/drinking glasses
  • Toilet seats, public bathrooms, swimming pools and showers
  • Touching public surfaces – like doorknobs, phone booths, or public benches
  • Sharing food, drink or dishes
  • Sneezing
  • Kissing, hugging or touching
  • Masturbation
  • Going to the gym, sharing exercise equipment

HIV is not spread through the air and it does not live long outside the human body.

Can I get HIV from Kissing?

Kissing is considered a very low-risk activity for the transmission of HIV. However, prolonged open-mouth kissing could damage the mouth or lips and allow HIV to pass from an infected person to a partner and then enter the body through cuts or sores in the mouth. Because of this possible risk, it is recommended that open-mouth kissing with an infected partner is a risk. Kissing in presence of bleeding gums or ulcer in mouth can be risky.

What is safer sex?

One is safest of all if he/she does not indulge in penetrative sexual intercourse. One is also safe if he/she is in a stable relationship where both the partners are free of HIV and neither of them has any other sex partners. Sex without penetration is another way to have safer sex that greatly decreases the risk of getting infected with HIV. One can have a great deal of stimulation and pleasure through caressing, hugging, kissing, and massaging different parts of the body. Safer sex also includes using a condom consistently, means using it every time.

Is there any risk attached to oral sex and anal sex?

Oral sex: one needs to know that the AIDS virus is present in secretions, including the vaginal secretions of a woman and the semen (in both the pre-ejaculation lubricating mucus and the ejaculate, or “cum”) of a man. This means that taking the partner’s sexual secretions into the mouth can pose a risk of infection though the risk is not very high.

It is strongly advisable to carry out oral sex only with some kind of protection. One should use a condom on the erect penis, and place a thin rubber sheet or “dam” over the woman’s genitals.
Anal Sex: AIDS virus more easily gets transmitted from an infected person to another person during anal sex than during vaginal sex.
In these circumstances, using a well-lubricated condom is absolutely essential for protection. Unlike the vagina, which produces secretions that lubricate vaginal sex, the anus does not produce lubricating secretions. Without such lubrication, the additional friction during anal sex can cause regular condoms to tear.

How effective are condoms in preventing HIV?

When used properly during every sexual intercourse, condoms are a proven means of preventing HIV infection in women and men. However, apart from abstinence, no protective method is 100% effective.

They are also effective at preventing sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) that are transmitted through bodily fluids, such as gonorrhea and chlamydia. However, they provide less protection against STDs spread through skin-to-skin contact like human papillomavirus (genital warts), genital herpes, and syphilis.

What is a female condom?

The female condom is the only female-controlled contraceptive barrier method currently on the market. The female condom is a strong, soft, transparent polyurethane sheath inserted in the vagina before sexual intercourse. It entirely lines the vagina and provides protection against both pregnancy and STIs, including HIV, when used correctly in each act of intercourse.

How can one protect oneself from HIV?

The only guaranteed way to avoid getting HIV is to abstain from all HIV risk activities.

a) Be loyal and develop faithful relationship with your partner.

b) Avoid unprotected sexual acts with multiple partners.

c) Regular and correct use of condom while having sex.

d) Use of new needles and disposable syringes for injections.

e) In case of blood transfusion, blood should be taken from a licensed blood bank.

f) Injecting Drug Users (IDU’s) should avoid sharing of needles/syringes.

Is there anything one can do to stay healthy after getting infected with HIV?

The shortest answer is yes! There are things that one can do to stay healthy after getting infected with HIV.

  • Healthy living style and proper care
  • Good Nutrition and physical exercises
  • Good support from family and friends
  • Regular medical check up from HIV specialist
  • Counselling
  • Treatment of other diseases
  • In time initiation of ART
  • Regular checkups after initiation of ART

Is it necessary for every pregnant woman to get screened for HIV?

Yes, it is recommended that pregnant women should get tested for HIV because, early detection of HIV infection can help in the reduction of the risk of HIV transmission to the baby by getting antiretroviral therapy in time.

If both the parents are HIV, what are the chances of the child being HIV positive?

In case both the parents are HIV positive, the chances of the child being HIV positive is very high. But with latest advances in medical techniques, treatment options and proper check-ups, it is possible to have a normal child. 95% babies are now becoming negative.

What support can I give a person who is living with HIV/AIDS?

It is important that we should support a person living with HIV/AIDS to remain healthy physically, mentally and socially.

We can offer support by:

  • We should not isolate the infected person, as he/she does not provide any risk to us through social contacts.
  • We should not pass moral judgments about the person.
  • Ensuring that the person stays active and economically productive.
  • Accepting the person along with the illness so that he or she maintains a positive self-image by feeling wanted and loved.
  • By providing the necessary care, affection and support to the family.
  • By helping neighbours, friends and relatives to understand the nature of the illness and the care and precautions required.
  • Get the correct knowledge of HIV/ AIDS and spread the knowledge in the society.
  • By fighting against the stigma and discrimination faced by HIV positive person.