Here’s some good news about HIV/AIDS: science has made real progress toward creating a cure and a vaccine – we don’t have these treatments yet, but scientists and doctors are very optimistic. That’s in addition to proven therapies that can reduce the risk of contracting HIV and treatment to help those with HIV or AIDS live long, healthy lives.
The bad news from the CDC is that HIV rates continue to climb among Latino men. And, specifically, even though it’s down in most categories, between 2010 - 2016, the rate of HIV diagnosis among men who have sex with other men (MSM) climbed by 21%.
Together, with African American MSM, they account for 2 out of every 3 HIV diagnoses among MSM in the United States.
AltaMed is here to set the record straight. It doesn’t matter what your race or sexual orientation is, your best protection against HIV is knowledge! This article will cover the basics, including where you can get tested for free.
The Difference Between HIV and AIDS
HIV (human immunodeficiency virus) is a virus that attacks the body’s immune system, which is what helps us fight viruses, bacterial infections, and diseases. If HIV isn’t detected and treated, it becomes harder for the immune system to fight infections and cancers. These infections and cancers take advantage of a person’s weakened immune system, causing their illness to worsen, and often indicate that the person officially has AIDS (Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome).
How HIV Spreads
Most people in the United States come into contact with HIV by having sex with someone with the virus. HIV can also be passed directly into the bloodstream by sharing needles or syringes with someone who has HIV. Certain body fluids, such as blood, semen, pre-ejaculation fluid, vaginal fluids, rectal/anal fluids, and breast milk, can also transmit HIV.
HIV is not spread through casual contact like kissing, shaking hands, hugging, using a toilet, or sharing drinking glasses. Bodily fluids like saliva, sweat, and tears do not transmit HIV.
The Best Ways to Protect Yourself
- Getting tested is the only fool-proof way to determine if somebody is infected. Knowing your status gives you the best chance to treat the disease effectively, as well as keep others safe.
- Use condoms – every time you have sex.
- Don’t share needles or syringes.
- PrEP (Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis) is a daily medicine that can help people remain HIV-negative. Taken as prescribed, PrEP can greatly reduce the risk of getting HIV. Even if you take PrEP daily, you should still use condoms to protect yourself from HIV and other sexually transmitted infections (STIs).
- If started within 72 hours of exposure, Post-exposure Prophylaxis, or PEP, is an emergency medicine that can stop HIV. It works best if the full 28-day course of medication is taken as prescribed.
Treatment and Precautions
While there is still no cure, there are ways to control HIV and keep people healthy, safe, and active. The most common and effective treatment for HIV is antiretroviral therapy (ART). Taken as prescribed, ART reduces the amount of HIV in the blood to levels so small they can’t be detected, which helps people live long, healthy lives, and reduces the chance of passing the disease to others. Since the introduction of ART, people who contract HIV and begin treatment have quickly seen their life-expectancy become almost identical to someone who does not have HIV.
ART, PrEP, and/or PEP can only be prescribed by a doctor. Most insurance plans, including Medi-Cal, cover ART, PrEP, and PEP. Free or low-cost ART, PrEP, and PEP are available for those who do not have health insurance. Visit our HIV/AIDS page to learn more about the treatments and services that may be available to you.
What Are You Waiting For? Get Tested!
The CDC recommends that everyone between the ages of 13 and 64 gets tested for HIV at least once as part of routine health care. For those in what are considered “high risk” categories (e.g., MSM or intravenous drug users, those with other STIs), you should get tested at least once a year.
No matter who you are or what your status is, we want to help keep you healthy. Learn more about our convenient testing locations and services, including rapid HIV testing, condoms, and sexual health information so you can grow healthy.