Some Frequently Asked Questions
1. What is the difference between HIV and AIDS?
Quite simply, HIV is the virus (Human Immune-deficiency Virus) and AIDS (Acquired Immune-Deficiency Syndrome) is the disease. Now, some more details: the virus is a ‘human’ virus it does not survive in animals or mosquitoes. It is very fragile outside of the human body and dies with contact to air. HIV attacks the body’s defense system (the Immune System) and makes it difficult for the body to fight off infections and other diseases. Because the immune system is damaged, some infections take this "opportunity" to spread and grow dangerously. These infections are called "opportunistic infections". When they get really big and life-threatening, they are called opportunistic diseases. The most common and deadly are: PCP (a kind of pneumonia), KS (a cancer), and TB (tuberculosis). One definition of AIDS can be classified as a person who has two (2) or more of the 28 opportunistic diseases.
Now, back to the immune system: when HIV attacks the immune system, it kills specific cells called T-cells. These cells alert the immune system that there is an ‘enemy’ invading and the T-cells send out antibodies. Normally the antibodies can wipe out the ‘enemy’ but because HIV reproduces so quickly inside of the T-cells, the antibodies are not effective. The T-cells die. To see how damaged the immune system is, doctors count the number of these T-cells/teeny drop of blood. If a person has a good immune system, the doctors count 800-1,200 T-cells/sample of blood. Another definition of AIDS is classified a person who has a damaged immune system because of HIV and the their T-cell count drops below 200.
2. What is ‘the test’?
‘The test’ is a test for the ANTIBODIES to HIV; it is NOT a test for HIV and it is NOT a test for AIDS. If a person tests ‘HIV-positive’ it means that there are antibodies present in the blood sample and the person is infected with HIV. OK, it gets tricky now: it can take between 2.5 weeks and 6 months for a person to show antibodies to HIV. Yet, HIV can still be in the blood and can be transmitted to another person! We are all different and we all have different immune systems. This period of time for antibody development is called the “Window period”.
Important: If one has had unprotected sex or a blood-to-blood contact with someone with HIV within 6 months, s/he needs to take a second test because of the window period.
Here’s a situation: “My boyfriend had unprotected sex with someone 2 months ago but today he tested HIV-negative. Is it safe to have unprotected sex with him?”
Answer: It is NEVER safe to have unprotected sex with anyone! He could still be in the window period (not showing antibodies but still has HIV). He needs to get tested 6 months from that last risky behavior.
3. Is oral sex risky?
Yes! Oral sex can be very risky because there can be microscopic cuts in the mouth, on the penis and in the vagina. We know that HIV is in high concentrations in semen, pre cum and in vaginal fluids. Any time there is an opening for any of these fluids, there is a risk of HIV transmission. Better to keep any of these fluids out of your mouth. Better yet, get to know the previous sexual history of your partner. Oral sex is pretty intimate stuff and you need to make sure you really want to get that personal with your partner.
4. If I get infected, why can’t I just take those ‘AIDS drugs’?
Don’t even think about it! These drugs are not the solution for everyone prevention is!!! The specific statistics: 1) 30% of all people who take the ‘HIV/AIDS drugs’ have to stop because of the terrible side effects (horrible diarrhea, immobilizing fatigue, constant vomiting, dementia, just to mention a few) and 30%-50% have a strain of HIV that builds up a tolerance and resistance to the drugs (the virus mutates or changes) and then the drugs are no longer effective. That means only ~20% are doing OK. 2) One in every seven of the people living with HIV have a resistance to at least one of the 15 drugs available. In other words, they do not work for a lot of people, yet fortunately they are effective for some of our friends with HIV/AIDS.
1. They are prohibitively expensive ($2,000/2 week drug supply).
2. They have to be taken on a strict regimen: 1 pill/2 hrs, 2 pills/4 hrs, 1 pill with food, 1 pill on empty stomach, 1 pill with high fat, etc. Who can take pills when there is violent vomiting? And one often takes 40 pills/day!
3. If one misses even one dose, the virus becomes resistant and even stronger causing the medication to become ineffective in combating the virus.
4. If one decides to start the HIV/AIDS medicines, it will be on your medical records which can cause future problems with medical insurance, school/college acceptance, getting a job, keeping an apartment, telling your family…..there is still a terrible and needless discrimination for people living with HIV/AIDS.
5. “If I get infected, I’m going to be REALLY mad at my partner!”
Hey! Not so fast with the accusations! Why didn’t you say “NO”? Why didn’t you use a condom??? The only person you can blame is YOURSELF. Where was your feeling of self-worth? You have a choice please make the correct and safe choice.
HIV is preventable! Don’t get infected in the first place! Either be abstinent (truly the best decision) or if already sexually active, you have to use a latex condom properly and every time you have sex. Hey!!! Not everyone is having sex why are you?
6. Why should I get involved with PEP/LA?
We have known about the dangers of HIV/AIDS for more than 20 years. We know that an HIV infection is associated with three (3) specific activities (unprotected sex, blood-to-blood contact, infected mother to child). We know the behaviors to avoid and we know how to prevent HIV/AIDS (abstinence, condoms, sterile needles). But why are people still getting infected with HIV???
In the world more than 16,000 people get HIV/day; 2000 of these are babies. Even in the USA, one person is infected every 15 minutes. WHY? There is a feeling of denial ("It won't happen to me!"); peer pressure and the use of alcohol and drugs contribute to risky behaviors. "I know my partner", "I trust my partner..." hah! can you really trust that partner? hey, if you can't talk about sex (protection, previous partners) then perhaps you're not ready to have sex. We have to promote dialogue and communication about sexuality. Poverty is directly associated with high numbers of people with HIV/AIDS. Many mothers have sex to feed their hungry babies; there are students who have sex for school fees.
You can make a difference! Talk to your friends and family about how to prevent HIV/AIDS. Talk to your peers about the importance of stopping discrimination of people with HIV/AIDS. Remember: "AIDS is a disease, not a disgrace" and "AIDS is a medical concern not social stigma.
More questions that PEP/LA will answer in detail:
1. “If one condom is good, are two condoms even better?” (No!!)
2. “If both people in a couple have HIV, do they still have to use condoms?”(Yes!!)
3. “What is the difference between the “incubation period” and the “window period”?” ("Incubation": time between infection and signs and symptoms (hours, years, decades). "Window": time it takes for HIV antibodies to develop after infection (2.5 weeks to 6 months))
4. “Can a person get infected with HIV by getting a tattoo?” (Yes!!)