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December is AIDS Awareness Month

December is AIDS Awareness Month. This is a time to raise awareness and reflect on the impact that this epidemic has had on our communities and on the world. The United States has made enormous strides in HIV treatment, care and prevention since the epidemic began 40 years ago.

What are HIV and AIDS? 

Human immunodeficiency virus, or HIV, is a virus that attacks cells that help the body fight infection, making a person more vulnerable to other infections and diseases. If left untreated, HIV can lead to the disease AIDS, or acquired immunodeficiency syndrome. There is no cure, but it is treatable with medicine.  AIDS is the last stage of HIV infection that occurs when the body’s immune system is badly damaged because of the virus. In the U.S., most people with HIV don’t develop AIDS because taking HIV medicine as prescribed stops the progression of the disease.

How is HIV transmitted? 

HIV is spread by contact with certain body fluids of a person with HIV, most commonly during unprotected sex or through sharing drug injection equipment.

You can only get HIV by coming into direct contact with the following body fluids from a person with a detectable level of HIV:

  • Blood 
  • Semen and pre-seminal fluid
  • Rectal fluids 
  • Vaginal fluids
  • Breast milk

The human body can’t get rid of HIV, and no effective HIV cure exists. So once you have HIV, you have it for life. Fortunately, however, effective treatment with HIV medicine (called antiretroviral therapy or ART) is available. If taken as prescribed, ART can suppress HIV replication and reduce the amount of HIV in the blood to a very low and even undetectable level. Without HIV medicine, people with AIDS typically survive about three years.

The National HIV/AIDS Strategy (NHAS) identifies the following priority populations as disproportionately impacted by HIV: 

  • Gay, bisexual and other men who have sex with men, in particular Black, Latino and Native American men
  • Black women
  • Transgender women
  • Youth ages 13-24 years
  • People who inject drugs

There are several symptoms of HIV, and not everyone will have the same ones. The only way to know for sure if you have HIV is to get tested. You can’t rely on symptoms to tell whether you have HIV.

For more information on AIDS awareness, read here.  

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