About HIV

Updated:Jan 22,2014

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Length: 1:51

Listen as Dr. Paul DenOuden, clinical HIV specialist, provides you with an overview of wellness planning for people living with HIV.


What is HIV?

HIV (Human Immunodeficiency Virus) is a virus that attacks the body's immune system, making it more difficult to fight common infections.

How is HIV diagnosed?

Your doctor, healthcare provider or clinic can diagnose the presence of the HIV virus with a simple test.

How is HIV transmitted?

The HIV virus is found in bodily fluids containing red or white blood cells. The virus is shared when an infected person's bodily fluids enter into another person during sexual contact, needle sharing, blood transfusion, organ donation or breast feeding. Casual skin contact will not transmit HIV, and tears and saliva do not contain the virus.

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Exposure to HIV can happen by:

  • Sharing or re-using equipment that has direct contact with blood. Examples might include sharing needles or drug paraphernalia, or accidentally being stuck by a needle that has been in contact with the blood of an HIV-infected person.
  • Having unprotected sexual contact with an HIV-positive person. Exposure to bodily fluids can happen through vaginal and anal intercourse, as well as during oral sex. The risk of oral sex transmission of HIV is increased if a female is menstruating or when an STD (sexually transmitted disease) flares up. These situations can increase the risk of contact with blood or white blood cells.
  • Receiving organs or blood transfusions from HIV-positive individuals prior to 1985--when hospitals began screening all donated blood and organs for HIV.
  • Birthing or nursing a baby, which can transmit the virus from mother to child.

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Untreated HIV can lead to AIDS

Left untreated, HIV will normally weaken a person's immune system and damage the disease-fighting cells (T-cells or CD4s) so they can no longer fight off infections. When the number of T-cells drops below a certain point (200 per cubic mm) the HIV-infected individual is given a diagnosis of AIDS (Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome).


Good news!

Today, HIV is a treatable condition, and people living with HIV can expect to have a normal lifespan if they stay on treatments and take care of their health.

HIV Wellness Checklist

People living with HIV have even more reason to take care of cardiovascular factors for good health.Wellness Checklist Thumbnail

By using this simple checklist, you can know exactly where you stand according to the guidelines for wellness.

As with all guidelines, your health practitioner may have solid reasons for prescribing different personal wellness goals for you.

HIV Health Management

Doctor and Patient
With a good medical team and a desire to reach wellness goals, people with HIV can have a virtually normal lifespan.