HIV/AIDS FAQ

WHAT IS HIV?

HIV is the human immunodeficiency virus. It is the virus that can lead to acquired immune deficiency syndrome, or AIDS. HIV damages a person’s body by destroying specific blood cells, called CD4+ T cells, which are crucial to helping the body fight diseases.

HIV is spread primarily by:

  • Not using a condom when having sex with a person who has HIV. All unprotected sex with someone who has HIV contains some risk. However:
    • Unprotected anal sex is riskier than unprotected vaginal sex.
    • Among men who have sex with other men, unprotected receptive anal sex is riskier than unprotected insertive anal sex.
  • Having multiple sex partners or the presence of other sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) can increase the risk of infection during sex. Unprotected oral sex can also be a risk for HIV transmission, but it is a much lower risk than anal or vaginal sex.
  • Sharing needles, syringes, rinse water, or other equipment used to prepare illicit drugs for injection.
  • Being born to an infected mother—HIV can be passed from mother to child during pregnancy, birth, or breast-feeding.

HIV is NOT spread by:

  • Saliva
  • Sweat
  • Tears
  • Feces
  • Urine

How long after a possible exposure should I wait to get tested for HIV?

Most HIV tests are antibody tests that measure the antibodies your body makes against HIV. It can take some time for the immune system to produce enough antibodies for the antibody test to detect, and this time period can vary from person to person. This time period is commonly referred to as the “window period.” Most people will develop detectable antibodies within 2 to 8 weeks (the average is 25 days). Even so, there is a chance that some individuals will take longer to develop detectable antibodies. The Phoenix Center tests based on IL Dept. of Public Health guidelines and uses 90 days as the window period. In other words, we suggest that you wait 90 days after the possible risk of transmission to get tested.