HIV Infection

HIV is the human immunodeficiency virus which can lead to AIDS (acquired immune deficiency syndrome). When a person's body is infected with the HIV virus, the body's white blood cells (CD4+ T cells) that help fight off infection are killed by the virus. As a result, HIV leaves a person's body weakened and prone to other diseases or infections.

The most recent statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show that an estimated 56,000 people in the US contracted HIV in 2006. In 2010 there were 7 confirmed cases of HIV in Chester County.

How do people get HIV?
HIV is spread primarily by:
  • Not using a condom when having sex with a person who has HIV.
  • Sharing injectable drug equipment such as needles.
  • HIV can be passed from mother to child at birth if the mother is infected during pregnancy, birth, or while breastfeeding.
There are other, less common modes of transmission:
  • Health care workers, being "stuck" with a needle in a healthcare setting.
  • Receiving blood transfusions, blood products or human organs that are contaminated with HIV. There is a very low risk associated with this type of infection as rigorous testing is performed during the donation process.
  • A bite that causes a break in the skin from a person infected with HIV.
  • When HIV-infected blood comes into contact with broken skin or mucous membranes, there is an extremely rare chance of transmission.
HIV cannot be spread in the follow manners:
  • Through the air
  • Through water
  • Bites from insects
  • Through saliva, sweat or tears
  • Social contact such as shaking hands or kissing on the cheek
What are the symptoms?
Some people who are infected with HIV may develop flu-like symptoms within a few weeks of infection. The symptoms might last for a week or two. Many people infected with HIV have no symptoms at all and may feel healthy for several years. However, even if they feel healthy, HIV is still affecting their health. People with HIV should be seen on a regular basis by a health care provider experienced with treating HIV infection.

How is HIV diagnosed?
Blood tests are used to detect antibodies produced in the body by HIV. These antibody tests are commonly referred to as ELISA (enzyme-linked immunoabsorbent) tests. A Western Blot is then performed to confirm all positive cases. Test results are usually available within a week or two.

Test kits are also available that can give more rapid results, but all positive HIV tests must be confirmed by a second "confirmatory" HIV test.

It is important to note that results that show up as HIV negative may not necessarily be negative. It can take up to 3 months to detect the antibodies. If a person is at risk, they should get tested in another 3 months.

How is HIV treated?
People infected with HIV are given antiretroviral drugs. These drugs do not get rid of the virus, but suppress it for long periods of time, letting people live longer than before.

How can HIV be prevented?
The safest and surest way to avoid any sexually transmitted disease is to abstain from sex, or to be in a long-term, mutually monogamous relationship with a partner who is not infected.

The fewer sex partners, the fewer chances that you will encounter someone with HIV or another type of STD.

Proper and consistent use of a latex condom may help reduce risk. Lambskin or "natural" condoms do not provide sufficient protection against HIV.

Do not use illegal, injectable drugs. Do not share needles.

If you think you may have been exposed to HIV or any STD, GET TESTED IMMEDIATELY. Sometimes medications can prevent infection if they are started quickly. To find out where to get tested, visit our STD clinic page.