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HIV Basics

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HIV stands for:

HIV is the virus that causes AIDS.
AIDS stands for:
History of HIV:

Watch the The Age of AIDS
Comprehensive documentary from the PBS program "FRONTLINE"

How does HIV impact the body?
HIV weakens several body systems including the immune system, making it easier for infections to invade the body.

  • The T-cell directs your immune system to fight off viruses, bacteria and other pathogens.
  • HIV uses T-cells to make more copies of itself.
  • Instead of helping your body stay healthy, T-cells begin making more copies of HIV.
  • Healthy T-cells are depleted.
  • The immune system is unable to fight off disease.
  • Indvidiuals become prone to opportunistic infections.

For more detailed information on HIV/AIDS click here.

Check out these videos:
Video Reveals How HIV Spreads Between Immune Cells

Video of HIV Lifecycle:

How is HIV transmitted?
HIV is spread by an exchange of specific body fluids.
  vaginal fluid
  breast milk

People transmit HIV through

  • Anal and vaginal sex
  • Rarely do people get HIV through oral sex.
  • Sharing used syringes.
  • Mothers can pass the virus to their child through breast milk.

HIV Prevention Links:


How HIV is NOT transmitted
HIV can not be transmitted casually by:
  shaking hands
  mosquito or other insect bites
Want to learn more? The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention can provide detailed information. You can reach them in a number of ways.
HIV/AIDS Fact – www.cdc.gov
  CDC National STD/AIDS Hotline 1-800-CDC-INFO (1-800-232-4636)
  CDC National STD/AIDS Hotline Spanish 1-800-CDC-INFO (1-800-232-4636)
  CDC National STD/AIDS Hotline for hearing impaired 1-800-243-7889 (TTY)
  Contact your local AIDS service organization for more comprehensive information on HIV/AIDS


This glossary is courtesy of the Southern Arizona AIDS Foundation’s HIV/AIDS Educator Committee.

Abstinence: Refraining from sexual intercourse or intravenous drug use.

Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome (AIDS): A series of symptoms or infections that can develop as a result of human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) infection, which makes the immune system less able to fight infection.

Alternative Therapies: Non-medical approaches that some people believe to be effective in treating HIV infection, including acupuncture, massage, visualization, natural supplements and macrobiotics.

Ambiguous test results: Results that are neither clearly negative nor clearly positive. Used here to describe HIV antibody test results in which the EIA (enzyme immunoassay- see definition) shows the presence of HIV antibodies but the Western Blot does not. To allow detectable antibodies to develop, a person whose test results are ambiguous should be retested within three months of possible exposure to HIV.

Anal sex (anal intercourse): Penetration of the anus by the penis or other objects.

Anonymous testing: Testing in which no information that identifies a person is recorded. Only the person tested can obtain the results.

Antibody: A substance in the blood that forms when disease agents such as viruses, bacteria, fungi and parasites invade the body. Although antibodies usually defend the body against invading disease agents, HIV antibodies, over time, give no such protection.

Antibody-negative test result: Used here to describe the results of a test in which no signs of antibodies to HIV are detected in the blood or in fluids from the mouth. This result can mean either the invidual does not have HIV or the individual has recently become infected with HIV but has not developed antibodies for HIV. It can take up to 3 months for an invidual to develop antibodies that can be detected by standard HIV testing.

Antibody-positive test result: Used here to describe the results of a test in which antibodies to HIV are detected in the blood or in fluids from the mouth. A person is assumed to be infected with HIV if the results of both the EIA and Western blot tests are positive.

Antigen: A substance that stimulates the production of antibodies.

Antigen test: A blood test that looks for a part of HIV rather than for antibodies to HIV. For a short period of tome, this test detects HIV in people who were recently infected with HIV but who do not yet have detectable antibodies. To further protect the blood supply, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) added this test in 1996, as an interim measure to the tests for HIV antibodies in place since 1985.

Antiviral drugs: Drugs that slow the pace of HIV infection by suppressing the ability of HIV to replicate itself.

Asymptomatic: No apparent symptoms of illness even though the individual tests positive for HIV.

AZT: The first antiviral drug with clinically beneficial effects on the treatment of HIV.

Bacterial infections: Diseases that bacteria cause, such as syphilis. Most respond to antibiotic treatment.

Barebacking: A term that originated in the gay community as a slang for unprotected anal sex. More.

Bisexual: A person who is romantically or sexually attracted to people of the same sex and of the opposite sex.

Blood-borne disease: An infection carried in the bloodstream, such as HIV infection and Hepatitis C infection.

Blood-to-blood contact: The mixing together of blood from more than one person. The primary ways HIV can be spread through blood-to-blood contact are the use of shared needles and syringes, blood transfusions (rare), receipt of blood components or clotting factors (rare), organ transplants (rare since 1985), and transmission from mother to child during birth.

Casual contact: Ordinary social contact, such as standing or sitting near someone, sharing utensils, office space, bathrooms, phones and swimming pools, shaking hands, kissing on the cheek. People cannot get HIV from casual contact.

CD4+ cell: See T cell.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC): A federal disease prevention agency, which is part of the US Department of Health and Human Services, that provides national laboratory and health and safety guidelines and recommendations. The CDC also tracks diseases throughout the world, and performs basic research involving laboratory, behavioral science, epidemiology, and other studies of diseases.

Combination therapy: Treatments, sometimes called “drug cocktails,” involving a combination of mulitple antiviral drugs that can dramatically inhibit HIV infection.

Condom: A sheath made of latex, polyurethane or lamb intestine that fits over an erect penis. When used correctly and consistently, latex condoms have been shown to greatly reduce the risk of HIV infection. Condoms made of lamb intestine are effective for birth control, but do not protect against the spread of HIV. See also Female Condom.

Confidential testing: Testing in which the results are recorded, but are not given out without permission of the person tested, except as required by state law.

Confidentiality: Used here to describe keeping medical information, including HIV status, confidential or private.

Contaminated needles: Needles that have been used by someone and not properly cleaned. People can become infected with HIV and/or Hepatitis C by using a needle and syringe that contains blood from a person who has HIV and/or Hepatitis C.

Dental dam: Used during oral sex as a barrier between a person’s mouth and their partner’s vagina or anus. Usually is a flat sheet of latex.

EIA (enzyme immunoassay): A standard test used to detect the presence of HIV. When an EIA detects antibodies to HIV, the result must be confirmed by the Western Blot test or immuno-flourescence assay (IFA) before a person is considered to have HIV. Formerly referred to as ELISA.

Ejaculate: v. To release semen; n. The semen released through ejaculation during orgasm. See Semen.


False negative test result: Used here to describe the results of a test for HIV antibodies that do not show the presence of HIV even though the sample of blood or fluid from the mouth contains the virus. Usually found in people who were recently infected with HIV but who do not have detectable antibodies.

False positive test result: Used here to describe the results of a test for HIV antibodies that do show the presence of HIV even though the sample of blood or fluid from the mouth does not contain HIV.

Female condom: A tube made of polyurethane with a ring at each end that lines the vagina and covers part of the labia. Has been shown to be effective against sexually transmitted diseases (STDS) including HIV infection.

Gay: Being romantically or sexually attracted to someone of the same sex. Typically a man who is attracted to other men. See also Lesbian.

Hemophilia: A hereditary blood disorder that prevents blood from clotting properly.

Hepatitis C: A contagious liver disease that results from infection with the hepatitis C virus. It can range in severity from a mild illness lasting a few weeks to a serious, lifelong illness. Hepatitis C is usually spread when blood from a person infected with the hepatitis C virus enters the body of someone who is not infected. Most people become infected with the hepatitis C virus by sharing needles or other equipment to inject drugs.

Heterosexual: Being romantically or sexually attracted to someone of the opposite sex.

High Risk Negative Individuals: are HIV Negative and have HIGH risk Sexual or Substance Abuse behaviors.

Sexual Risks includes:

  • anonymous sex
  • multiple sex partners
  • unprotected sex
  • men who have sex with men
  • men on the "Down Low" (men self identified as heterosexual who have sex with other men)
  • having a history of sexual transmitted infections/diseases (STIs/STDs)
  • current STI/STD.

Substance Abuse Risks include:

  • injection drug use (IDU) and/or other controlled substance usage
  • sharing needles
  • engaging in sex while high on a drug and/or sex while under the influence of alcohol.

HIP/AZ: HIV Intervention and Prevention / Arizona.

Homosexual: See Gay.

Host: Use here to describe where a germ lives. For example, a person who has HIV is the host for the virus.

Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV): A virus that weakens several body systems and destroys the body’s immune system, making it easier for life threatening opportunistic infections and cancers to invade the body.

Immunodeficiency: A state in which the immune system's ability to fight infectious disease is compromised or entirely absent.

Immune: The state of being protected from a disease.

Immune system: A system of the body that helps it to resist germs.

Immunization: A method to trigger the body’s defenses against a specific disease. For example, the polio vaccination triggers the immune system to create immunity to polio infection.

Immunoflourescence assay (IFA): A blood test that detects antibodies to HIV. Used to confirm EIA results.

Infectious disease: A disease that is caused by or can be transmitted by germs. Not all diseases are highly contagious (easily transmitted to other people). For example, HIV is highly infectious, but is not easily or casually transmitted.

Injection drug use: See IV drug use.

IV drug use: IV stands for intravenous (into the veins). The use of a needle and syringe to inject drugs into the body.

Latex dam: See Dental dam.

Lesbian: A woman who is romantically or sexually attracted to other women.

Lesion: An abnormal change in tissue or structure of an organ or body part due to an injury or disease.

Lubricant: Used here to describe a substance used to reduce friction during sex.

Masturbation: Massaging one's own genitals, often to the point of orgasm.

Monogamy: Two people have sex only with each other over a period of time.

Mucous membrane: A lining or membrane of all body passages that have an outside opening, such as the mouth and vagina. The glands in the mucous membrane produce mucous.

Mutual masturbation: Massaging a partner’s genitals, or one’s own in the presence of a partner, often to the point of orgasm.

National Institutes of Health (NIH): An agency of the US Department of Health and Human Services that supports and conducts biomedical and health research, trains scientists and doctors, and writes a publishes scientific and medical reports.

Needle exchanges: Programs that provide IV drug users (IVDU’s) with new, sterile needles and syringes to reduce the spread of HIV and Hepatitis C from shared equipment. Research has shown that these controversial programs do not increase drug use and can actually be an important factor in IVDU’s seeking treatment.

Needle stick, stab or jab: A needle puncture of the skin, usually accidental.

Non-communicable disease: A disease that is NOT transmitted from person to person.

Nonoxynol-9: A chemical (spermicide) that has been used in some contraceptive creams, foams and jellies that kills sperm. It does not prevent HIV transmission, and can actually increase the possibility of HIV transmission as it can often cause irritation of the skin.

Opportunistic infections: An infection caused by pathogens (bacterial, viral, fungal) that usually do not cause disease in a healthy inividual, (i.e. one with a healthy immune system). A compromised immune system presents an "opportunity" for the pathogen to infect any organ in the body.

Oral sex: Contact of the mouth or tongue with a partner’s penis, vagina, or anus. While no one knows exactly what the degree of risk is, evidence suggests that the risk is less than that of unprotected anal or vaginal sex; however, there is still risk of HIV or other STD transmission.

Partner notification: The process of letting sex and needle-sharing partners of an HIV infected person know that they may be at risk of having HIV.

Protease inhibitors: A new class of antiviral drugs that suppress HIV by blocking infected cells from making copies of HIV.

Replicate: Used here to describe the ability of HIV to make copies of itself.

Risk behavior: Used here to describe activities that put people at increased risk of getting HIV.

Risk group: For statistical purposes, a collection of people thought to have something in common that puts them at risk of getting a disease.

Safe sex: Sexual practices that involve little or no exchange of blood, semen, or vaginal fluid. Often safe sex involves the use of a condom or other latex barrier, or refraining from sexual activities that involve higher risk of HIV transmission.

Screened blood: Blood that has been tested for the HIV antibody.

Semen: Whitish fluid containing sperm and white blood cells, which is ejaculated from the penis during orgasm. HIV can be spread through semen.

Sero-conversion: Used here to describe the changes from an absence of HIV antibodies in the blood to the presence of HIV antibodies in the blood of an HIV infected person. After being exposed to HIV, sero-conversion marks the point at which someone is considered to be infected with HIV.

Serodiscordant Relationships: relationships made up of one positive partner and one negative partner

Sex (sexual intercourse): Genital contact between individuals which involves contact with a partner’s vagina, penis or anus.

Sexual orientation: The romantic or sexual attraction people feel for others, whether of their own sex, the opposite sex, or both sexes.

Sexually transmitted disease (STD): A disease that spreads during sex, through genital contact between people, such as gonorrhea, syphilis, herpes and HIV. Also known as STIs (sexually transmitted infections).

SIV (simian immunodeficiency virus): A virus, similar to HIV in humans, that infects monkeys and other primates in west and central Africa.

Stages of Change Model: Describes a non-linear process that incluces at least 5 stages. It is helpful in assisting individuals in determining what actions they need to take in order to continue in their progress towards behavior change.

  • Precontemplation: Individual has the problem (whether he/she recognises it or not) and has no intention of changing.
  • Contemplation: Individual recognises the problem and is seriously thinking about changing.
  • Preparation: Individual recognises the problem and intends to change the behaviour within the next month.
  • Action: Individual has enacted consistent behaviour change for less than six months.
  • Maintenance: Individual maintains new behaviour for six months or more.
  • Relapse: Returning to older behaviors and abandoning the new changes. It can occure at any time during a behavior change process.

Stigma: A social mark of shame or discredit, whether visible or not, that sets people apart from others.

Syndrome: Used here to describe a set of symptoms or related medical problems or infections.

T-cell: A type of white blood cell essential to the body’s immune system. Helps regulate the immune system and control the functions of other types of white blood cells.

T-cell count (CD4+ count): A marker that measures the effect of HIV infection on a person’s immune system.

Transfusion: The use of donated blood in a medical procedure.

Transplant: The transfer of an organ or tissue from one person to another.

Tuberculosis (TB): A contagious disease that primarily affects the lungs.
Universal precautions: Guidelines used by health care providers to help protect them against blood borne germs, such as HIV.

Universal precautions: The use of protective barriers such as gloves, gowns, aprons, masks, or protective eyewear, which can reduce the risk of exposure of the health care worker's skin or mucous membranes to potentially infective materials. In addition, under universal precautions, it is recommended that all health care workers take precautions to prevent injuries caused by needles, scalpels, and other sharp instruments or devices.

Vaccine: A substance made from modified or denatured viruses or bacteria that helps to protect people against a particular disease.

Vaginal fluid: Fluid that provides moisture and lubrication in the vagina. HIV can be spread through vaginal fluid.

Vaginal sex (vaginal intercourse): Sex in which the vagina is penetrated, for example by a penis or sex toy.

Viral load: The amount of HIV RNA (ribonucleic acid) in a cubic milliliter of blood. As viral load increases, the chance of illness due to HIV increases.

Viral load test: A marker that measures the amount of HIV RNA in the blood. Used by doctors to help make decisions about treatment. The lower the viral load, the better chances a person living with HIV has in remaining healthy.

Virus: A germ, much smaller than a bacterium, whose survival depends on cells in the host. A virus, such as HIV, often destroys the cells that it infects.

Western Blot: A blood test that detects antibodies to HIV-1. Used to confirm EIA results.

White blood cells: A group of blood cell types, such as T-cells, B-cells, macrophages, and monocytes whose primary function is to fight infection. White blood cells are the main target of HIV.



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