Did you know that an estimated 1.1 million people living in the United States are living with HIV/AIDS? Many Americans still don’t know fully understand the disease, its challenges, and how to best keep themselves and others safe. In honor of World AIDS Day, AltaMed is here to share the facts.
HIV vs AIDS: Understanding the Difference
HIV (Human Immunodeficiency Virus) is a virus that attacks the body’s immune system. Our immune system is what helps protect us from viruses, bacterial infections, and diseases. If HIV isn’t detected and treated, it becomes harder for the immune system to fight infections or certain types of 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). People with AIDS have a harder time naturally fighting other illnesses.
Even with treatment, the immune system can never completely eliminate HIV. Once someone becomes infected, they will always be infected.
The good news is, with proper medical care people with HIV can live long and healthy lives. If you or a loved one is living with HIV, it’s important to remember there are ways to stay healthy and protect others.
How is HIV Spread?
Only certain body fluids – blood, semen, pre-ejaculation fluid, vaginal fluids, rectal/anal fluids, and breast milk – can transmit HIV. 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/syringe with someone living with 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
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommend everyone between the ages of 13 and 64 get tested for HIV at least once a year. Getting tested is the only fool-proof way to determine if somebody is infected. Knowing your status provides the best chance to treat the disease effectively, as well as keep others safe.
Using condoms during sexual activity and not sharing needles/syringes will also help reduce your risk of HIV.
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, using condoms during sexual activity provides additional protection against HIV and other sexually transmitted infections (STIs).
Post-exposure Prophylaxis, or PEP, is an emergency medicine taken right after exposure to HIV. PEP can stop HIV if started within 72 hours of exposure. 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 undetectable levels, which helps people live long, healthy lives and significantly reduces the chance of passing the disease to others. Since the development 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.
Get Tested for Free
AltaMed is dedicated to providing the best care for all, with an emphasis on education, prevention, and empowerment. Our mobile HIV testing van travels throughout communities and provides free HIV testing, condoms, and information on PrEP, safer sex practices and more.
5520 Santa Monica Boulevard, Los Angeles
Free club admission with testing
Testing hours: 4:00pm – 1:00am
- Sunday, December 2
- Sunday, December 9
- Sunday, December 16
470 E. 3rd Street, Los Angeles
Testing hours: 10:00am – 7:00pm
- Wednesday, December 19
230 E. 6th Street, Los Angeles
Testing hours: 10:00am – 3:00pm
- Wednesday, December 5
- Monday, December 10
- Tuesday, December 18
- Wednesday, December 26
215 W. 5th Street, Los Angeles
- Friday, December 7
- Monday, December 17
2230 W. 6th Street, Los Angeles
- Thursday, December 6
10937 Burbank Boulevard, North Hollywood
Testing: 9:00pm – 1:00am ($10 drink voucher included)
- Saturday, December 1
- Saturday, December 8
- Saturday, December 22
2915 W. Beverly Boulevard, Montebello
Free $10 drink voucher with testing
Testing hours: 9:00pm – 1:00am
- Friday, December 14
- Thursday, December 20
- Friday, December 28
17817 Lakewood Boulevard, Bellflower
Testing hours: 8:00pm – 12:00am
- Tuesday, December 11
The Crest Bar
5935 Cherry Avenue, Long Beach
Testing hours: 8:00pm – 1:00am
- Friday, December 21
Cal State University Dominguez Hills
1000 E. Victoria Street, Carson
- Tuesday, December 4
- Wednesday, December 12
You can walk in for free HIV testing at our Indiana location at 512 S. Indiana St., Los Angeles, CA 90063 between 8:00 a.m. and 5:00 p.m., Monday through Friday. You can also visit one of our primary care locations today to get tested. If you or a loved one is living with HIV, we can connect you with options and services to help maintain the best quality of health.
Learn more at https://www.altamed.org/hivaids-care