What are HIV and AIDS?

AIDS is Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome. It is caused by the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV). HIV is found in semen, pre-ejaculatory fluid, vaginal fluids, blood and breast milk of HIV infected people. HIV destroys a type of white blood cell the immune system uses to fight disease. AIDS occurs when the body’s immune system has been severely damaged and is the final stage of HIV infection. People with AIDS are vulnerable to life threatening infections and cancers.

When does a person become ill?

Most people with HIV look and feel healthy. The average length of time between exposure to the virus and onset of symptoms is 8-10 years or more. With current medical therapies, this time can be extended. Because of the delay of symptoms, many people may not suspect they are infected with HIV and can spread the virus to others.

What are the symptoms of HIV infection?

Some people develop flu-like symptoms (fever, body aches, and lymph node swelling) about 2-4 weeks after first exposure to HIV. This is called an “acute” or “primary” HIV infection. The symptoms go away on their own, within several weeks.

There may be no further symptoms for the next 10 years, although the virus is actively multiplying and slowly damaging the immune system (unless treatment is administered). Eventually, when the immune system is so damaged it can no longer function adequately, people develop symptoms which can include fevers, swollen lymph nodes, weight loss, persistent cough, fatigue and skin rashes.

What treatments are available?

There is no cure for HIV/AIDS. However, there are medications called highly active antiretroviral therapy, or HAART, that slow the progression of HIV infection. As a result, there are now many people living with HIV/AIDS. The infections and cancers that AIDS causes can often be treated.

How do people get HIV?

HIV is contracted by contact with body fluids and blood. Risky behaviors that put you at risk for HIV include:

  • Unprotected vaginal, anal or oral sex (that is, not using a condom, unless your partner is known to be HIV negative).
  • Sharing needles during intravenous drug use, anabolic steroid use, tattooing or body piercing.

Other ways HIV can be acquired are:

  • Blood and blood product transfusions especially before 1985. This risk has been drastically reduced through the combination of screening donors and testing blood before it’s used.
  • Needle stick accidents in a health care setting. Treatment with antiretroviral medications can be used to prevent infection.
  • Mother to infant transmission. Women who have HIV infection can transmit the virus to their babies, pre-birth or during delivery and through breast milk. Drug therapy given to HIV+ mothers during pregnancy and to infants after birth reduces the possibility of transmission.


Repeated, carefully designed and monitored scientific studies prove that there is no risk of transmitting HIV by sharing the same space, classroom, athletic or recreational facilities, sauna, swimming pool, bathroom, food, eating utensils, clothing, or books with someone who has HIV infection. Ordinary objects and surfaces used by people with HIV infection present no danger and need not be feared. HIV is not transmitted by coughing or sneezing. Neither animals nor insects can transmit HIV.

There is no chance of transmitting HIV through sexual activities that do not involve direct contact of semen, pre- ejaculatory fluid, vaginal secretions or blood.

Touching, stroking, massage and masturbation, alone or with a partner, do not transmit HIV as long as the fluids mentioned previously do not come in contact with an opening, cut or sore (break in skin).
Kissing: No case of HIV infection has been traced to exposure to saliva in any circumstance. If blood is present, there is a hypothetical risk of exposure.

Post Exposure Prophylaxis

The CDC recommends treatment (PEP) with antiviral medication within 72 hours of high risk exposure to body fluids. This includes unprotected sexual contact with someone known to be HIV positive.

Counseling and Testing

The CDC recommends everyone be tested for HIV. Testing determines exposure to HIV by identifying antibodies to HIV; it does not indicate whether a person has AIDS. In general, antibodies show up in the blood test from 3 to 6 months after exposure.

Counseling should always provide information about whether the test is anonymous (no records with personal identification) or confidential (a personal medical record).

The following agencies provide ANONYMOUS or CONFIDENTIAL testing, and support resources.

  • Floyd County Health Department is now offering FREE HIV Testing by appointment only. When calling for appointment, you will be assigned a number. This testing is confidential. For information about testing, please call (812) 948-4726, ext. 655, ext. 658, or ext. 659. The FCHD will also be handing out free condoms, lube, dental dams, and clean works kits at their office, located at 1917 Bono Rd, New Albany, Indiana (rear parking lot of Floyd Memorial Hospital).
  • Clark County Health Department, Affiliated With Hoosier Hills AIDS Coalition, 1301 Akers Ave, Jeffersonville, Indiana, (812) 288-2706 or 1-800-828-5624; HIV/STD testing by appointment only, Monday through Friday ($10 donation); STD Clinic, Tuesday afternoons, picture ID required ($10 donation).
  • Choices for Women, 2656 Charlestown Road, New Albany, Indiana, 812-941-0872; free HIV testing for women and men.  Call for an appointment.
  • Louisville Metro Public Health and Wellness HIV Prevention Services, 850 Barret Avenue, Suite 302 and 305B, Louisville, (502) 574-5600; call first, more information on the Friend to Friend website.
  • HIV Services Hotline, 1-866-588-4948.
  • Counseling and Psychological Services, University Center South Room 207, (812) 941-2244, is available to all IU Southeast students (part or full time) at no fee.  Counselors are all professionally trained and have specific skills related to work with college students.  More information is available on the Counseling and Psychological Services website.
  • Individuals seeking help with substance abuse may also call the national 24-hour addiction hotline at 1-800-662-HELP (4357). This hotline provides a confidential, free, 24-hours-a-day, 365-days-a-year, information service, in English and Spanish, for individuals and family members facing mental health and/or substance use disorders. This service provides referrals to local treatment facilities, support groups, and community-based organizations.

REMEMBER: Early diagnosis and treatment are essential for maintaining one’s health.

HIV/AIDS health education information provided by Indiana University Health Center, 600 N. Jordan Ave, Bloomington, (812) 855-7338.

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