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Frequently Asked Questions

Frequently Asked Questions refers to listed questions and answers, all supposed to be frequently asked in some context, and pertaining to a particular topic. Below is a list of Frequent Questions within each HIV/AIDS Basic topic category.

HIV/AIDS 101

Do all people with HIV have AIDS?

Answer

No. Being diagnosed with HIV does NOT mean a person will also be diagnosed with AIDS. Healthcare professionals diagnose AIDS only when people with HIV disease begin to get severe opportunistic infections (OI), or their T-cell counts fall below a certain level.

For more information, please visit CDC’s “Basic Information” page.

Was HIV created by the United States Government?

Answer

No, AIDS was not created by the United States Government.

For more information, please visit CDC’s “Origin of HIV/AIDS” page.

Can I get AIDS from sharing a cup or shaking hands with someone who has HIV or AIDS?

Answer

HIV is found only in body fluids, so you cannot get HIV by shaking someone’s hand or giving them a hug (or by using the same toilet or towel). While HIV is found in saliva, sharing cups or utensils has never been shown to transmit HIV.

For more information, please visit the CDC’s “Which body fluids transmit HIV?” page.

Can HIV be transmitted through an insect bite?

Answer

No, Insects can NOT transmit HIV. Research has shown that HIV does not replicate or survive well in insects. In addition, blood-eating insects digest their food and do not inject blood from the last person they bite into the next person.

For more information, please visit the CDC’s “HIV and Its Transmission” page.

Can I get HIV from kissing?

Answer

No. You cannot get HIV from casually kissing someone (or vice versa) who has HIV. Skin is a greater barrier against HIV. It is not recommended to engage long, open mouth kissing (“French Kissing”) with someone who has HIV and one of you has an open sore in or around the mouth.

For more information, please visit the CDC’s “HIV Q&A” page.

Prevention

Can I get HIV from hot tubs or steam rooms?

Answer

No, HIV does not survive outside the body, and fluids like sweat and saliva that are typically secreted during these activities have never been shown to transmit HIV.

For more information, see CDC’s Which body fluids transmit HIV?

Does abstinence include anal sex?

Answer

Abstinence means not engaging in any form of sexual activity where there is a risk of exchanging fluids (semen, vaginal fluids, rectal mucous). This includes anal, oral, and vaginal sex.

How effective are latex condoms in preventing HIV?

Answer

Latex condoms, when used consistently and correctly, are highly effective in preventing HIV. Research on the effectiveness of latex condoms in preventing HIV transmission is both comprehensive and conclusive.

For more information, see CDC’s Condom Fact Sheet in Brief

I had sex with someone I think could be at risk for HIV, and the condom broke? What should I do?

Answer

If it’s been less than 72 hours since the condom broke, you may be able to take medication that could keep you from getting infected with HIV, even if your partner is HIV-positive. Call your doctor or your local health department immediately and ask about post-exposure prophylaxis, or PEP. If it’s been longer than 72 hours, PEP will not protect you from HIV, and you will need to explore HIV testing options. (Go to HIVtest.org for help in locating a testing site.) In most cases, you will have to wait at least 2 weeks after a possible exposure before an HIV test can provide accurate results.

Why does the CDC recommend that routine, opt-out HIV screening start with 13-year-olds?

Answer

Research indicates that a significant percentage of teens are sexually active, which automatically puts them at risk for contracting STDs, including HIV. A 2007 CDC survey found that 47% of students in grades 9-12 reported having had sexual intercourse at least once, and 37% of sexually active students did not use a condom during their last act of sexual intercourse. Routine HIV screening would also allow many teens to get tested for HIV, without having to disclose their sexual activity to their parents.

Why are pretest/prevention counseling and informed consent no longer recommended in healthcare settings?

Answer

According to the CDC, the intention behind eliminating prevention counseling was to reduce or end barriers to testing in healthcare settings. CDC believes HIV testing can be covered under a general permission form (consent form) that is signed for all medical care.

For more questions and answers about opt-out screening, see CDC’s Questions and Answers for the General Public: Revised Recommendations for HIV Testing of Adults, Adolescents, and Pregnant Women in Healthcare Settings.

Diagnosed With HIV/AIDS

If I am diagnosed with HIV, can a healthcare provider tell who gave me the infection?

Answer

No. HIV diagnostic tests cannot determine who passed the infection to the negative partner.

If I am diagnosed with HIV, can I tell when I got it?

Answer

In general, no. A skilled healthcare provider can generally estimate how long you have been infected by looking at the levels of virus in your body, your CD4 (T-cell) count, and whether or not you have had any opportunistic infections. If you are currently suffering from symptoms of acute HIV infection, a healthcare provider can usually conclude that infection occurred within the past few weeks.

Am I going to die of AIDS?

Answer

While complications from HIV infection remain a possibility, current treatments and medications are giving people with HIV a positive prognosis and near-normal life-span. This makes patients living with HIV vulnerable to the same health conditions that affect all people as they age. This is why it is important to maintain good health throughout your life.

How often will my provider check my CD4 count and viral load?

Answer

Your provider will probably check your CD4 count at your first visit. Then—depending on what your counts are and whether you both decide it’s time to begin treatment—you can usually expect to undergo viral load testing every 3-6 months. Typically, once you are on a good medication regimen, have an undetectable viral load, and have an increasing CD4 count, you will take a viral load test every 6 months.

Why does my provider want to order so many tests?

Answer

It’s important to remember that your provider will be treating your HIV but also needs to consider your overall health and well-being. These tests, along with the information you provide and your physical exam, all help your provider to develop the best plan of care to help you lead a healthy life.

How can I tell if my medications are working and decreasing my viral load?

Answer

Your provider should closely monitor your viral load during the first few weeks after you start your medication regimen. Typically, if your medications are appropriate, your viral load should start to reach undetectable levels by 16-24 weeks after you begin treatment.

I just tested positive after being sick with primary HIV Infection. At my last clinic visit, my provider started me on medications to keep my "viral set point" low. Are "viral load" and "viral set point" the same thing?

Answer

No. Viral load is the amount of HIV in a sample of your blood. Viral set point is the viral load that your body establishes within a few weeks or months after you are infected with HIV.

Some research suggests that if your viral set point is lowered with medications, the progression of your HIV disease may be slower and less severe, your immune function may be preserved longer, and the risk of viral mutation (which is how new strains of HIV are created) may be lowered.

Staying Healthy With HIV/AIDS

What if I only use drugs on the weekend? Is it really that bad?

Answer

Recreational or occasional drug use can be just as dangerous as an addictive pattern of behavior. In particular, excessive alcohol or stimulant (meth) use can be damaging even on an intermittent basis. These behaviors can be associated with immune system damage, lack of medication or treatment adherence, infection, organ damage, and overdose. Some of these effects can be seen even if a person only uses them on the weekends or when out "partying." Sometimes this behavior is more dangerous because it leads to a greater loss of control and more risky behavior.

For more information on the negative effects of substance abuse when living with HIV, please see the Department of Veterans Affairs’ HIV/AIDS: Drugs and Alcohol.

Aren’t all STDs curable with a shot or a pill?

Answer

No. While most bacterial infections are curable with an antibiotic injection or pill, some viral infections (including herpes and HPV) may or may not resolve on their own. HIV is a viral STD that will not go away once you have it. There are currently no cures for these viruses—only treatments. In particular, having herpes can increase the risks of transmitting or acquiring HIV. For more information, see CDC’s HIV/AIDS & STDs.

For more information on the negative effects of substance abuse when living with HIV, please see the Department of Veterans Affairs’ HIV/AIDS: Drugs and Alcohol.

I am trying to maintain a healthy diet but it’s hard to eat because I feel nauseated all the time. Is there something that I can do?

Answer

Yes! There are many medications and natural remedies for combating nausea. Talk to your healthcare provider about your options.

Do I really need a flu shot?

Answer

Yes, you really do! While it isn’t clear whether people with HIV are susceptible to a more severe case of the flu than others, studies show that HIV-positive people tend to have higher rates of complications from influenza than others and more prolonged cases of flu and flu symptoms (especially in "flu season"). For this reason, HIV-positive patients are considered a high priority for vaccination. However, people with HIV should not receive the nasal spray form of the vaccine, which is a weakened but live form of the specific flu virus. Only the injectable form should be used.

For more information, see CDC’s HIV/AIDS and the Flu.

I noticed that some of the symptoms of opportunistic infections are similar to other things, like the flu. How do I know if I might have an OI or if it’s just the flu?

Answer

If you are concerned, check with your healthcare provider. There are some infections (pneumonia, sinus infections, skin infections, etc.) that can be associated with a weakened immune system--these will not get better until you get treatment. In general, if you are in good health, with a CD4 count above 400-500, you are not at risk for the more dangerous OIs. However, if you are unsure of your CD4 count, have had an OI before, or your symptoms worsen instead of improving over time, you should contact your care provider immediately.

My parents had diabetes and I am on a protease inhibitor. Does that mean I will get diabetes?

Answer

Not necessarily. Family history is an important risk factor for developing diabetes, especially if you have other risk factors too. But no one can be 100% sure that you will or won’t develop diabetes. That’s why it’s important to consult a healthcare provider who can monitor you for signs and symptoms of insulin resistance and diabetes. You can also take steps to prevent diabetes, including exercising regularly and eating a healthy diet.

For more information, see CDC’s National Diabetes Education Program.

Can my insurance company drop me now that I have been diagnosed with HIV?

Answer

There are no simple answers to that question. You do have some protections. The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA) helps people with HIV/AIDS get and keep their health insurance. HIPAA provides several protections important to people with HIV/AIDS:

  • It limits (but doesn’t eliminate) the ability of insurance companies to exclude you from coverage if you have a pre-existing condition.
  • If you have a family member who has had health problems in the past, or is having them now, HIPAA keeps group health plans from denying you coverage or charging additional fees for coverage because of your family member’s health.
  • It guarantees certain small business employers (and certain individuals who lose job-related coverage) the right to purchase individual health insurance.
  • HIPAA guarantees, in most cases, that employers or individuals who purchase health insurance can renew the coverage, regardless of any health conditions of individuals covered under the insurance policy.

Regardless of your health status, it’s important to understand your health insurance so that, if you get sick, you know what to expect.

For more information, see CDC’s HIV and the Law: HIPAA.

What illnesses caused by germs in food and water do people with HIV commonly get?

Answer

Germs in food and water that can make someone with HIV ill include E.coli, Salmonella, Campylobacter, Listeria and Cryptosporidium. They can cause diarrhea, upset stomach, vomiting, stomach cramps, fever, headache, muscle pain, bloodstream infection, meningitis, or encephalitis.

For more information, see CDC’s Safe Food and Water.

As a person living with HIV, how do I find employment services? Are there job-training programs I might qualify for?

Answer

Yes, there are public, private, and not-for-profit job training programs available to you. Check first with your local HIV/AIDS service providers to learn if there are HIV-specific job training and employment services in your community. It’s a good idea to begin with employment services, and then seek job-training services, if you need and want them, when you have developed a plan with your vocational or employment services counselor.

If you are receiving disability benefits, you are eligible for the Ticket to Work program. You are also presumed eligible for state vocational rehabilitation (VR) services, but you do not have to be receiving disability benefits to be determined eligible for state VR services.

Public Programs include:

  • One-Stop Career Centers - The Department of Labor (DOL) operates 3000 One-Stop Career Centers across the country to give job seekers, with or without disabilities, training referrals, career counseling, job listings, and similar employment-related services. These One Stops (which may be called different things in different communities) are intended to be central referral sources. Find your local One-Stop at http://www.servicelocator.org/. Exit Disclaimer
  • Vocational Rehabilitation (VR) Agencies – Funded through the U.S. Department of Education, state VR agencies provide employment-related help for people with disabilities, including counseling, medical and psychological services, job training, and other individualized services. They also accept Tickets under the Ticket to Work program. Find your state VR agencies at http://wdcrobcolp01.ed.gov/Programs/EROD/org_list.cfm?category_ID=SVR.
  • Ticket to Work Program – Through the Social Security Administration (SSA) Ticket to Work program, Employment Networks (ENs) contract with SSA to accept Tickets and provide employment and training services to people with disabilities. Find an EN in your area at https://yourtickettowork.com/web/ttw/en-directory. Exit Disclaimer
  • Job Corps - Job Corps is a free education, training, and employment program run by DOL for low-income young people at least 16 years of age, with and without disabilities. Find local Job Corps locations at http://www.jobcorps.gov/centers.aspx.
  • Apprenticeship – DOL’s Registered Apprenticeship program offers hands-on career training for people, with and without disabilities, by linking them with businesses that can train them to perform specific jobs. Find registered program sponsors in your area at http://oa.doleta.gov/bat.cfm?start.
  • Workforce Recruitment Program (WRP) – The WRP is an employment program for college students and recent graduates with disabilities. It is co-sponsored by DOL and the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD). Learn more at www.wrp.gov.
  • YouthBuild – YouthBuild is a DOL-funded program in which low-income young people ages 16 to 24 work full-time for 6 to 24 months toward their GEDs or high school diplomas while learning job skills by building affordable housing in their communities. Find information about over 200 YouthBuild sites at: https://youthbuild.org. Exit Disclaimer

Community colleges are a primary location of job training programs (as well as GED and English as a Second Language [ESL] programs) in many communities. Often they have been created in conjunction with local employers. Directly contact your local community colleges to find out about the job training programs they offer, or ask your service providers to help you.

Non-profit/social service organizations:

  • There are non-profit organizations that offer employment and training, serving both general and high-risk populations.
  • Some HIV/AIDS service organizations and providers offer employment and training services. The following is list of HIV/AIDS Service Providers with Employment/Training Services:
  • Information about and referral to your local community-based non-profit organizations providing employment services nay be available from One-Stop Career Centers, VR agencies and other public programs.

I’m receiving Supplemental Security Income/Social Security Disability Insurance (SSI/SSDI), but would like to go to work. Are there specific programs for SSI/SSDI beneficiaries who would like to go to work?

Answer

If you are on SSI and/or SSDI and are between the ages of 18 and 64, you qualify for the Ticket to Work Program. Under this program, you may get vocational rehabilitation and employment services from Employment Networks. The Social Security Administration (SSA) approves organizations, individuals, and pubic and private groups to provide these services. All state Vocational Rehabilitation agencies and many One-Stop Career Centers are Employment Networks. To find an Employment Network near you, go to https://yourtickettowork.com/web/ttw/en-directory. Exit Disclaimer To learn more about the Ticket to Work Program, go to http://www.ssa.gov/work/aboutticket.html.

I’m receiving SSI/SSDI benefits. If I get a job/return to work, will I lose my benefits or not be able to get back on benefits if I need them?

Answer

Most people can get a job or return to work without risking their eligibility for benefits. But it is important to understand the different rules for Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI), Supplemental Security Income (SSI) and other programs. It is best to talk with a professional benefits planner. Your HIV/AIDS service providers may offer access, directly or by referral, to benefits planning and assistance. In addition, the Social Security Administration’s (SSA) Work Incentives Planning and Assistance Program (WIPA) serves all SSA beneficiaries with disabilities who are over the age of 18 with benefits planning and assistance services. Click here to find a WIPA service provider in your area.