HIV Treatment and Care
HIV stands for human immunodeficiency virus. As the name suggests, this is a virus that affects a person’s immune system. When HIV enters the body, it enters special white-blood cells (called T cells), and begins making copies of itself, destroying the T cell in the process (viral replication). T cells play an important role in the body by fighting off infections and disease. Without a healthy immune system, the human body has a harder time fighting off infections, which can result in severe illness or death. HIV is now easily treated though medication and is considered a manageable chronic illness, like diabetes. However, if HIV is left untreated, it can eventually develop into AIDS (acquired immunodeficiency syndrome). For this reason, it is important to know your HIV status.
Is there a cure?
There is currently no cure for HIV, but there are plenty of options for treatment and management such as utilizing ART (antiretroviral therapy), healthy lifestyle changes to support the immune system, and safer sex practices to prevent the spread. Through a global effort of scientific research and clinical trials, new ways of treatment and prevention are leading us one step closer to a cure.
To learn more about current research and trails, visit these websites:
National Institute of Health: Office of AIDS Research
HIV Prevention Trial Network
HIV Vaccine Trial Network
How is it spread?
Much like other viruses, HIV travels in fluids from one person’s body to the next. It can spread from both sexual and non-sexual contact (like needle-sharing in the case of people who use injection drugs).
HIV can spread through these 6 bodily fluids:
- cum (semen) / pre-cum (pre-seminal fluids)
- vaginal fluids
- rectal fluids
- breast milk
How is it prevented?
There are several options available to prevent the spread of HIV. Some long-standing safer sex practices include abstinence, using condoms/barriers (and lube!) for penetrative sex, low-risk activities that reduce bodily fluid sharing (like oral sex), and harm reduction techniques like using new needles for people who inject drugs, and routine HIV-testing.
There are also medical intervention options called PrEP and PEP.
- PrEP (pre-exposure prophylaxis) is a medication that an HIV-negative person can take to prevent infection. It comes in the forms of a daily oral pill, the 2-1-1 method, and now an injection.
- PEP (post-exposure prophylaxis) is emergency medication for an HIV-negative person that has had an exposure to HIV – like a condom breaking. PEP must be taken within 72 hours of exposure.
Visit our PrEP/PEP section to learn more.
The best way to prevent HIV is to know your status and practice what works best for you.
U=U stands for “undetectable equals untransmittable”.
What does “undetectable” mean? For someone living with HIV, this means that their viral load (the amount of HIV in the body) is so low that they cannot transmit the virus to someone else through sex. An undetectable viral load can be reached through adhering to treatment (taking ARTs as prescribed) and engaging in routine health maintenance.
This campaign hopes to bring to light that HIV medication is highly effective, treatment and support are available, and to push back against HIV stigma.
This campaign was started after three large studies on HIV sexual transmission were completed in thousands of serodiscordant couples, where one person was living with HIV and their partner was HIV-negative.
ART (antiretrovirals) is known as medication specifically used to treat HIV infection. There are many ARTs that can be used to treat HIV. Different antivirals will target HIV using different mechanisms.
Early on, HIV medications had multiple side effects that were intolerable for many patients. With continued recent development in medicine, most patients on HIV medication report little to no side effects.
With HIV medication, there is periodic monitoring with labs. All persons living with HIV should have their labs completed approximately every 3 months per HIV treatment guidelines.
Case management, mental health therapists and counselors are available for those who are living with HIV.