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What is HIV?

The Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) damages cells in the immune (defense) system that helps to protect us by fighting off infection and disease. As the virus gradually destroys these cells, the immune system becomes unable to protect against illness.

What is AIDS?

Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome (AIDS) is the last stage of HIV infection. AIDS is caused by HIV, which weakens the immune system over a period of time. However, a positive HIV test result alone does not mean that a person has AIDS. A diagnosis of AIDS is made on the basis of the person's symptoms and results of lab tests.

How is it spread?

Getting HIV infected blood, semen, or vaginal fluids into your body in any way can put you at risk. This includes having unprotected anal, oral or vaginal sex and sharing needles or drug works. You can't tell by looking at a person if they have HIV. An infected woman can spread the virus to her baby during pregnancy, delivery or through breast milk. However, with proper treatment the chance of passing the virus from the mother to the newborn baby is greatly reduced.

You cannot get the virus from:

  • Casual contact with people who have HIV
  • Tears or saliva
  • Handling objects that have been touched by someone who has the virus
  • Donating blood
  • Mosquito bites

What are the symptoms?

Most people do not feel ill for an average of 8 to 10 years after being infected with the virus. The following symptoms can be caused by HIV:

  • Constant tiredness
  • Persistent fever
  • Swollen glands
  • A dry, nagging cough and/or shortness of breath
  • Continued loss of appetite
  • A large weight loss without dieting
  • Diarrhea that won't go away
  • Sores or rashes that won't go away
  • Chronic yeast infections
  • Night sweats
  • Changes in memory or vision
  • Unusual or persistent infections

How is it treated?

There are medical treatments that can slow down the rate at which HIV weakens the immune system. There are also treatments that can prevent or cure some of the illnesses associated with AIDS. These treatments have prolonged the lives of people with HIV and improved their quality of life. Early detection offers more options for treatment and care.

Who should be tested?

Get an HIV test if any of the following applies to you:

  • Share needles for injecting drugs or had sex without a condom with someone who has shared needles.
  • Know or suspect that your sex partner(s) have had multiple partners, used injection drugs, or had sex with prostitutes.
  • Have a sexually transmitted disease (STD) or have had sex without a condom with someone who has a STD.
  • Have hemophilia or have had sex without a condom with a person with hemophilia.
  • Had a needle stick or other exposure to blood.
  • Had anal, vaginal or oral sex without a condom.
  • Received a blood transfusion between January 1978 and June 1985.
  • Are pregnant (it is best to be tested before getting pregnant, if you have any of the above risks).
  • Had sex with a prostitute or if you have more than one sexual partner.

How can HIV infection be prevented?

  • Use a new, latex condom with a water-based lubricant every time you have sex. Condoms don't offer 100% protection but they do offer the best protection we have.
  • Have sex with only one person who is having sex only with you.
  • Know your sex partner's history of STDs and drug use.
  • Have regular STD exams and HIV tests if you are sexually active.
  • Know your HIV status and the status of your partner(s). Consider being tested before having sex.
  • Remember, you won't automatically be tested for HIV when you go for a medical exam. Ask to be tested if you're at risk.
  • If you are a health care worker, follow routine barrier precautions, and handle needles and other sharps safely.
  • Don't share needles, toothbrushes, eating utensils or razors that could be contaminated with blood or body fluids.
  • If you are thinking about getting a tattoo or body piercing, remember that you can get infected if the tools haven't been cleaned properly, or if the artist doesn't wear clean gloves with each new customer.

What is an HIV (human immunodeficiency virus) test?

A simple test done by taking blood or fluid from cells in the mouth, that shows infection with HIV, the virus that causes AIDS.

Who should have an HIV test?

  • The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that everyone 13 to 64 years get tested.
  • Regardless of age, have an HIV test if you are sexually active, have shared needles or works for injecting drugs.

What if I am pregnant?

By law, all pregnant women must have an HIV test at their first prenatal care visit. It is advised that all pregnant women be tested again at 26-28 weeks of pregnancy.

Can anyone make me take an HIV test?

Under Michigan law, unless you are ordered by a judge, or you are a prisoner entering a state correctional facility, getting an HIV test is your decision. No one can test you without your consent.

Can I change my mind after I consent to the test?

You can change your mind at any time before the test is run. You must give your health care provider a written request.

Can someone under age 18 take the test without their parents' consent?

A minor has the right to take the test for HIV without their parents' knowledge or consent.

What is the difference between anonymous and confidential testing?

  • Anonymous HIV testing: your name is not used and is not on test results. You will be given a code number to receive results. If you need a written copy of test results, take a confidential test.
  • Confidential HIV testing: Your name will be used on test results.
  • In Michigan, you have the right to request an anonymous test

How is HIV testing done?

HIV tests are done on blood or oral fluids. Specimens are sent to a lab and you get results in about one week. When testing blood, a needle is used to draw blood from a vein in your arm. Oral fluids are collected on a swab from your mouth.

Some clinics or testing sites offer rapid testing. This is a test done on a small amount of blood from fingertip or fluid in your mouth. You will get results in that same visit. If your test shows possible infection you will need more testing.

How will this test help me?

  • It will tell if you have HIV or not. People can have HIV for years and not know it unless they get tested.
  • If you are infected, it can help you get proper treatment and avoid spreading HIV to other people.
  • If you are not infected, it can help you reduce your risk of getting HIV.

What does a negative (or non-reactive) result mean?

  • A negative result means you are not infected with HIV, or you have been infected too recently for it to show up.
  • If you recently had sex without a condom or shared needles, you should get another test in about six weeks.
  • Sometimes HIV tests cannot detect recent infection.

What does a positive result mean?

  • A positive result means that you are living with HIV.
  • See a doctor as soon as possible. The person who gave you your test results can help you find a doctor.
  • If you have HIV, you can infect other people by having sex, sharing needles, through birth or breastfeeding.
  • Use condoms every time you have sex to prevent infecting others. The person who gave you your test results can help you plan ways to avoid infecting others.

Who will know the results of my test?

In Michigan, all HIV test information is confidential, by law.

  • There are very strict rules about who is allowed to see testing information.
  • Health care workers that are involved in your care may see your test results.
  • Health insurance companies, Medicare and Medicaid, if they are paying health care costs, will see test results.
  • All positive HIV tests are reported to the local health department.
  • If you have HIV, Michigan law requires that your doctor or someone from the local health department notify all of your known sexual and/or needle-sharing partners that they may have been exposed to HIV. They do this without using your name, or sharing any information about you.
  • It is illegal to discriminate against people with HIV.

If I have HIV, will I definitely develop AIDS or get sick?

No. Today there are many treatments for HIV. These treatments can prevent serious illness, including AIDS. If you get care quickly, you have a good chance for a long and healthy life.

Whom should I tell if I have HIV?

  • Current, past and future sexual and/or needle-sharing partners should be notified.
  • Your local health department can also help to notify partners. They will do this without using your name or sharing any information about you.
  • Michigan law requires you to tell any current or future sexual partner that you have HIV before having any kind of sex with them. You doctor or local health department will talk to you about this.

What if I have more questions?