Hesperian Health Guides
HIV (Human Immunodeficiency Virus) is a STI that can pass from one person to another through sex, through unclean needles, and by touching infected blood. HIV is not spread through everyday contact such as shaking hands, hugging, or kissing, from living, playing, or eating together, or from sleeping next to each other. Also, it is not spread by food, water, insects, toilet seats, or sharing cups. Although people often think HIV and AIDS are the same, AIDS is an illness that develops later, after a person has been infected with HIV for some time without receiving treatment for it.
HIV does not have any signs at the beginning. Someone who looks and feels completely healthy can have and spread HIV. It may take years for the first signs of illness to appear. The only way to know for sure whether or not you have HIV is to get an HIV test. Tests are available at many health centers at low or no cost.
Treatment for HIV/AIDS (antiretroviral medicines) is now much more widely available and has fewer side effects. Although they are not cured, people taking HIV medicines will not develop AIDS but instead will stay healthy and lead normal and long lives. The medicine limits the virus in their body and this helps prevent HIV passing to other people.
If you think you could have HIV, get tested so you can start treatment as soon as possible. For more information about HIV, see the chapter on HIV and AIDS (in development).