HIV/AIDS: General Information
What Is HIV?
HIV is the common name for the Human Immunodeficiency Virus. HIV is a retrovirus. This
means it can enter the body’s own cells and become part of the genetic make up of those cells.
When someone has HIV, the body tries to fight the virus by making antibodies. An HIV test
looks for these. It can take days to several weeks for the body to make antibodies. If they are
found, the person is “HIV-positive”. The body can’t get rid of HIV infection. Someone who
tests positive for HIV will always test positive. There will always be antibodies.
What Is AIDS?
AIDS is the common name for Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome. A diagnosis of AIDS
means that the immune system has been greatly harmed by HIV. AIDS is a diagnosis based on
the state of a person’s health. It is not the same as having HIV infection.
It can take years for AIDS to develop. A very small number of people never progress to AIDS.
In time, HIV weakens the immune system in most people. This leaves them more likely to
develop infection and disease than a person without HIV.
There are medicines that slow down the damage caused by HIV and help the immune system.
Someone who tests positive for HIV can maintain good health by taking these medicines.
How Can You Get HIV?
HIV infection can occur when
1. A person is exposed to certain body fluids (see below) of someone who has HIV and
2. The amount of HIV in the body fluids is enough to spread to another person and
3. HIV gets into the bloodstream of the person who is exposed to the fluids.
These body fluids carry HIV
If any of these fluids get into the bloodstream, they can increase the risk of getting HIV. They
can enter the bloodstream in these ways.
1. Sharing needles or injection supplies (works) that contain blood.
2. Anal or vaginal sex without a barrier (e.g. condom).
Note: Anal or vaginal sexual intercourse carries a higher risk of HIV infection than oral
sexual activity because of small tears that occur in the anus and vagina. Also, the tissue
of the vagina and cervix is more easily infected than other skin tissues.
3. Oral sex without a barrier (i.e. condom, dental dam).
4. Blood or blood product transfusion that contains the HIV virus.
Note: The blood supply in the United States is the safest it has ever been. Blood donors
are carefully screened. Donated blood goes through many tests to make sure it is safe.
5. By way of a mother who has HIV infection during the pregnancy, birth, or breastfeeding of
How Can HIV Infection Be Prevented?
People who engage in sexual activities that might expose them to blood, semen, or vaginal fluids
can protect themselves by using condoms, female condoms, and dental dams. People who inject
drugs can protect themselves by using clean needles and works, and by not sharing them with
anyone else. Women who have HIV can protect their infants from HIV infection by taking HIV
medicines during their pregnancies and birth of their children. The HIV virus is present in breast
milk. Women with HIV infection are counseled to bottle feed their infants.
Research has confirmed that HIV does not stay alive when exposed to air long enough to dry.
Sharing public toilets and shaking hands are very safe.
There is not enough virus present in saliva to share HIV by kissing.
HIV is not spread by mosquitoes.
Who Should Get Tested for HIV?
An HIV screening test is recommended for patients in all health care settings according to the
CDC. Persons at high risk for HIV infection should be screened at least once a year. It is
important to know whether you have HIV so you can have treatment before the HIV harms your
Testing should be done for anyone who may have been exposed to HIV. If there is a chance the
person was exposed to HIV just before the test, the body might not have started making
antibodies. Repeat tests may be needed in 6 weeks, 12 weeks, and 6 months, even if the first test
Pregnant women should be tested to prevent spread of the virus to the baby during pregnancy
and birth. It is easy and safe to protect the baby from HIV by using anti-HIV medicines.
Can a patient refuse an HIV test?
It is your choice to have an HIV screening test. A patient has a right to refuse an HIV test.
Health care services and treatment cannot be denied because a patient refuses to have an HIV
Where Can a Person Get Tested for HIV?
There are anonymous HIV tests and confidential HIV tests.
An anonymous HIV test is done at a designated testing site. It does not use the name of
the person being tested. The test result does not go into the person’s medical record. For
a list of these sites, contact the Wisconsin AIDS Hotline (see below).
A confidential HIV test is done in a doctor’s office. It will record the name of the person
being tested. This means that only certain people can have access to the test result. A
person’s health insurance company may have access to this information, which can affect
future coverage. These test results will go into the person’s medical record.
What Happens after a Positive HIV Test?
Someone who tests positive for HIV needs to see a doctor who specializes in HIV/AIDS as soon
as possible. The doctor will monitor the status of the immune system and the virus.
There are medicines to preserve the immune system, control the virus, and reduce the chance of
giving the virus to others. It is helpful to form a good relationship with an HIV specialist so the
best decisions can be made about treatment.
Who has Access to Results of HIV Testing by Law?
State law permits only a very limited number of people to know if someone has HIV infection.
Positive test results are reported to public health officials. Strict laws protect confidential
information on HIV.
Where Can a Person Find Out More?
Below is a list of Wisconsin resources and AIDS Service Organizations (ASOs).
University of Wisconsin 608-263-0946
HIV/AIDS Comprehensive Care Program (Infectious Disease Clinic)
offers affordable, accessible and confidential medical and social services regardless of
insurance status or ability to pay
AIDS Resource Center of Wisconsin (ARWC) 608-252-6540
provides HIV testing, prevention services, case management, legal services, support
groups, food pantry and dental services for people in Madison and surrounding counties
Wisconsin HIV/STD/Hepatitis C Information and Referral Center 800-334-2437
provides information on the prevention, transmission, and treatment of HIV/AIDS,
sexually transmitted diseases (STD), and hepatitis
Public Health Madison & Dane County , HIV Partner Services 608-243-0411
provides confidential HIV counseling and testing resources for partners of people with
Wisconsin Division of Public Health, AIDS/HIV Program 608-267-5287
OraQuick® In-Home HIV Test
HIV test kit allows people to test themselves at home by using an oral swab and testing
solution. Results can be read in 20 to 40 minutes. Food and Drug Administration (FDA)
approved and available nationally in several major pharmacies and retailers and online.
Your health care team may have given you this information as part of your care. If so, please use it and call if you
have any questions. If this information was not given to you as part of your care, please check with your doctor. This
is not medical advice. This is not to be used for diagnosis or treatment of any medical condition. Because each
person’s health needs are different, you should talk with your doctor or others on your health care team when using
this information. If you have an emergency, please call 911. Copyright ©2/2015. University of Wisconsin Hospitals
and Clinics Authority. All rights reserved. Produced by the Department of Nursing. HF#4421.