Frequently Asked Questions about HIV and AIDS

Frequently Asked Questions about HIV, AIDS and Women

Is HIV the same as AIDS?

No. A person may live with HIV but not have AIDS.

What is HIV?

HIV stands for Human Immunodeficiency Virus. This virus destroys the immunological system of the person that has it.

What is AIDS?

AIDS means Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome. If the immunological system is weakened by HIV, the body is more likely to develop infections and diseases because it cannot defend itself against them. AIDS is when a person’s immune system has been weakened by HIV to a severe degree. HIV if untreated may progress to AIDS.

Living with HIV does not mean having AIDS. Access and adherence to treatment – that is, following medical recommendations, eating well, not forgetting to take the medication – make it possible to have a life like that of anyone else.

Why is discrimination referred to as the ‘third epidemic?’

According to UNAIDS, there are three phases of the AIDS epidemic in any society:

  • The first one is the HIV infection.
  • The second one is that of AIDS. There are infections that threaten lives.
  • The third: discrimination and stigma. When people do not inform people in their life about their diagnosis due to fear of rejection from their family and friends, fear of losing a job or being refused employment, it is very hard to prevent HIV and start treatment to avoid AIDS.

How is the virus transmitted?

HIV can be found in blood, mother’s milk, pre-seminal fluid, semen, vaginal fluids and menstrual blood. It is transmitted during unprotected sexual relations, through non-tested blood transfusions, with contaminated sharp objects and injection instruments. It can also be transmitted to the baby during pregnancy, birth and lactation.

How is it NOT transmitted?

There is no infection for sharing a cup of tea. The virus is not in saliva or tears, nor sweat. Let’s not be afraid of hugging people who live with HIV, because discrimination and stigma is what harms the most. If we donate blood we should know that, currently, disposable material is used, so there are no risks of infection. And the blood to be transfused is always checked.

How do I take care of myself and others?

Always use condoms: be it in a one night stand or a long term relationship, with a person that we do not know or with someone to whom we have been close to for a long time. Demand the use of disposable syringes, needles and materials in labs and dentist’s offices. Avoid sharing needles and syringes if you use drugs.

Do women have more risks of infection?

Yes. Physiologically, women are two to four times more vulnerable to HIV infection since they have a larger mucous surface where there could be microscopic injuries. Young women and adolescents, whose reproductive system are not completely developed, are even more vulnerable to HIV and sexually transmitted infections. The risk increases in women with untreated STIs.

Can a woman living with HIV become pregnant and have a babe born HIV-negative?

Yes. Women living with HIV can start treatment to prevent vertical transmission of HIV to the baby in the third month of pregnancy. It is essential that women living with HIV who wish to conceive and have safe pregnancies and healthy babies consult their doctor.

How can someone realize if s/he lives with HIV?

Between the transmission and the development of the disease, 10 years may elapse. During that time the person may feel healthy and not have any symptoms. In order to know, it is necessary to run the Elisa test, which is a blood test that detects the antibodies that the body generates when facing the virus.

If the result is positive or reactive a second Elisa test will be run and the diagnosis will be checked with a more specific test: Western Blot.
The test must be done voluntarily and confidentially.

It is important to know that if a person takes a test as soon as s/he suspects that the virus may have entered his/her body, it may be that not enough detectable antibodies are present  and the result will be a false-negative.

Can I lose my job if I am diagnosed as living with HIV?

No. According to the International Labour Organization Code of Practice, “HIV status, real or perceived, should not be a reason to
terminate an employment relationship.”

How is HIV treated?

People living with HIV are treated with antiretroviral (ARV) therapy. These are drugs that make it possible for the body’s virus load
to decrease and its defenses to increase. For treatments to be effective, adherence is very important: always take the
medication on time and be sure to discuss and understand your doctor’s recommendations.