The Truth About HIV and AIDS

Find out everything you need to know about HIV and AIDS. Learn about other issues that are related to HIV. Knowing the facts about HIV decreases your chances of getting or spreading HIV.

HIV 101

HIV is an acronym for Human Immunodeficiency Virus. The virus weakens the immune system to the point where the body can no longer fight off other diseases or infections.

AIDS, or Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome, is considered to be the most advanced and life-threatening stage of HIV infection. AIDS is a diagnosis that is given by a medical doctor that must meet certain diagnostic criteria:

1) The person must have a CD4 count (t-cell) of less than 200 (most people with a healthy immune system and who are not living with HIV have on average 500-1200 t-cells)

2) An opportunistic infection, which are infections seen only in people who have a weak immune system, must be present and diagnosed.

It is estimated that there are approximately 14,000 undiagnosed persons living with HIV who are not even aware of their HIV Status. One in 36 Latino men will be diagnosed with HIV during their lifetime. Seventy-nine percent of new HIV infections occur among men who have sex with men. 1

10 Myths or Misconceptions About HIV

The following is a list of the 10 most common myths or misconceptions about HIV. Dispelling these myths is important for preventing the spread of HIV disease.

1. Being HIV positive is a death sentence.

Medical science has come a long way since the early years of the HIV and AIDS epidemic making it possible for people with HIV and AIDS to now live long, healthy, productive lives with proper medical care and healthy lifestyle choices. Many people have lived with HIV for over 25 years. 2

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2. I can get HIV from casual contact with HIV positive people.

HIV is transmitted through very specific ways including unprotected anal and vaginal sex as well as sharing injection drug use equipment. It has been proven that you cannot get HIV from touching someone who is HIV-positive or through tears, sweat, urine, feces or saliva or by sharing utensils or plates with someone who is HIV-positive. Sexual intercourse or blood-to-blood contact are the riskiest ways of transmitting or getting HIV. 2

3. Heterosexuals who do not use intravenous drugs are not at risk for becoming HIV positive.

Although the highest rate of HIV transmission is through male to male sexual contact or intravenous drug use in the United States, about 16% of men and 78% of women become HIV positive through heterosexual contact. Globally, HIV is most commonly transmitted through heterosexual (male-female) sexual contact. 2

4. I don’t have to protect myself from HIV; the new medications will keep me healthy.

New antiretroviral drugs are increasing the life span of HIV positive individuals, however, the medications are expensive and can have serious negative side- effects. Remember, people who are taking HIV medications must take them every day. A person who misses too many doses or is unable to take their HIV medications as prescribed, runs the risk of developing resistance to their medications ultimately rendering their medications ineffective and useless. 2

5. HIV medications are too expensive and only the wealthy can afford the latest HIV medications.

HIV treatment and medications are available to everyone regardless of their ability to pay. The Ryan White CARE Act is a federally funded program that provides the latest HIV treatment and medications, as well as other services, to people living with HIV and AIDS and who are uninsured. 2

6. I’m already HIV-positive, so I don’t have to practice safer sex.

Although you might already be living with HIV, it is important to maintain your sexual health by protecting yourself from other infections and STDs. Condom use for anal and vaginal sex can protect you from becoming infected with other STDs that can potentially complicate your overall health. There is also the possibility of becoming infected by another strand of HIV that could potentially be resistant to the medications you are taking. Make an informed decision about condom use, minimize your risk and protect your health. 2

7.  HIV only affects gay men.

HIV can infect anyone regardless of race, gender, gender identity, sexual orientation, and age. Participating in risky sexual or drug use behaviors increases the chances of getting HIV. 3

8. I cannot have children because I have HIV and AIDS.

Women living with HIV can now have children with minimal risk of transmitting the virus to their baby as the result of advances in pre-natal HIV care. 2

9.  You can’t get HIV from having oral sex without a condom.

Although the risk of HIV is much lower you can still get HIV from unprotected oral sex. Very few cases, however, have been documented where oral sex was the only “reported” means of transmission. Make an informed decision when it comes to oral sex but always use condoms for anal and vaginal sex to stay free of HIV. 3

10.  I can get HIV from a mosquito bites.

You cannot get HIV from a mosquito bite. HIV can only live in the body of a human and cannot survive outside the body of a human for very long or in the body of another animal. Also, when mosquitoes bite they do not inject the blood of the person whom they last bit. 

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Substance Abuse & HIV

It is a fact that HIV is spread through the sharing of intravenous drug use equipment. Sharing equipment such as needles, syringes, and other drug injection paraphernalia increases the risk of HIV transmission. Non-injection drugs and alcohol, however also play a crucial role in HIV transmission. The effects of drugs and alcohol impair judgment and can lead to unsafe sexual behaviors, which put people at risk of transmitting or acquiring HIV.

For people who are living with HIV and AIDS, the use of illicit or recreational drugs can adversely affect their health by weakening their immune system and negatively impacting their CD4 (t-cell) count. Some illicit or recreational drugs use can also have dangerous drug interactions with HIV medications which, depending on the drug, can increase or decrease the amount of drugs in your system which can result in a heart attack, stroke, or even an overdose. Certain drugs like cocaine, crack or methamphetamine (crystal) can cause HIV to progress much faster than normal.4

If you use drugs and are living with HIV and AIDS, AltaMed can help you minimize your risk or assist you in accessing recovery services through our mental health and case management programs available to our patients. Click here to learn more or call 1-888-455-5540.

Stigma among Latinos

The cultural impact of machismo in many Latino communities has helped to create a community norm that is reluctant to acknowledge or talk about risky behaviors or sexuality in general. Fear of disclosing risky behaviors or sexual orientation may prevent Latinos from getting tested for HIV, seek out HIV and AIDS treatment, or seek HIV prevention services. It is difficult for many within the Latino community to talk openly about their sexuality and, as a result of embarrassment or shame, may not get the information they need to make healthy choices about their sexual health.

By overcoming HIV and AIDS related stigma encountered by many in Latino communities, we can learn to ask the right questions, gain correct, up-to-date information and learn healthier ways of taking care of our communities and of our own bodies.5

AltaMed is a safe zone for Latinos living with HIV/AIDS of all sexual orientations and gender identities. Become an AltaMed HIV patient, today! Click here or call 1-888-455-5540 to make an appointment.

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Pregnancy & HIV

All pregnant women should get tested for HIV early in their pregnancy as part of routine pre-natal care. Knowing her HIV status early in the pregnancy affords HIV-positive pregnant mothers more time to make informed decisions about effective ways to protect her health, the health of her unborn baby and prevent mother-to-child transmission of HIV.

HIV can be passed during the pregnancy, during labor and delivery, and through breastfeeding. It is recommended that HIV-positive women in developed countries not breast-feed and instead use baby formula as a safe alternative.

To prevent the transmission of HIV from mother-to-child a regimen of anti-HIV medications are taken by the mother during pregnancy, during labor and delivery, and after birth. The baby may also receive anti-HIV medication treatment for 6 weeks after birth. If proper anti-HIV medications are correctly administered to the mother and child from the early stages of pregnancy to after the delivery HIV transmission rates reduce to less than 2%. 6

If you are pregnant and would like to take an HIV test as part of routine prenatal care click here to find an AltaMed testing location near you. If you are a women living with HIV and AIDS and are thinking about planning a pregnancy click here or call 1-888-455-5540 to make an appointment with one of our doctors or case managers who can answer your questions and provide you with the support you need

Frequently Asked Questions  

What are the symptoms of HIV?

At first, symptoms may consist of flu-like systems such as fever, chills, body aches, and swollen lymph nodes. Some people do not experience or have any symptoms, while others experience symptoms many years later such as night sweats, fever, fatigue, involuntary weight loss, diarrhea, swollen lymph nodes, oral candidiasis, and vaginal yeast infections. 7  

How can I get HIV or how is HIV transmitted?

HIV is transmitted by specific body fluids including:

  • Blood
  • Semen
  • Vaginal Fluids
  • Breast Milk

The most common way of transmitting HIV is through unprotected sexual contact (anal and/or vaginal sex) or by sharing injection drug paraphernalia including needles, syringes, cookers, and other injection equipment. An HIV-positive woman can transmit the disease to her child during pregnancy, during delivery or through breast-feeding. 7  

Can you get HIV from oral sex?

There is the possibility of getting HIV through oral sex, however it is far less risky than anal and vaginal sex. Very few cases, however, have been documented where oral sex was the only “reported” means of transmission. Make an informed decision when it comes to oral sex but always use condoms for anal and vaginal sex to stay free of HIV. Click here to learn about condom use. 7

Is HIV preventable?

Yes, abstinence from sex and injection drug use are the only guarantees, but condoms are the next best option along with not sharing injection drug use equipment including syringes, cookers and needles. 7  

Where can I get tested for HIV?

AltaMed offers a variety of different options for free and confidential HIV testing including walk-in hours at our clinics and storefront locations, scheduled HIV test appointment at our clinics, or visit AltaMed’s HIV mobile testing unit throughout Los Angeles. Click here to learn about our locations and how AltaMed can provide your next HIV test. 7

How long does an HIV test take?

HIV Rapid tests take about 20 minutes.  Normally, the HIV rapid tests are done through oral, blood draw, or finger-stick methods to collect samples for testing. Click here to find out where to take an HIV rapid test. 7

Is there a cure for HIV?

No, but there are various options for treatment and more progress is being made in the development of a vaccine. 7  

What is high-risk behavior?

Having unprotected anal and vaginal sex or sharing injection drug use paraphernalia. If you need assistance with changing behaviors that put you at risk for getting HIV, click here for more information. 7


Questions? Or Looking for more information?

Contact us at: 1-888-455-5540



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1Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. May 2012. Division of Community Engagement (DCE), Office of the Associate Director for Communication (OADC). 20 July 2012. 

2Tong, Warren. 10 Harmful Myths About HIV/AIDS. 2011. The Body. 20 July 2012. 

3Cichoki, Mark, RN. Top 10 HIV and AIDS Myths. 2009. Guide. 20 July 2012. 

4Link between drugs and HIV infection from NIDA. National Institute on Drug Abuse. 20 July 2012. 

5HIV and AIDS among Latinos. October 2011. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 20 July 2012. 

6HIV and Pregnancy. February 2012. AIDS info. 20 July 2012. 

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