Frequently Asked Questions about hiv

  1. What is HIV and AIDS?
  2. How is HIV transmitted?
  3. Are condoms effective in preventing transmission of HIV?
  4. Can mosquitoes transmit HIV?
  5. How do HIV medications work?
  6. Where can I get tested for HIV?
  7. Where can I get more information about HIV?

1. What are HIV and AIDS?

virusHuman Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) is the virus that causes AIDS (Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome). HIV destroys a certain kind of blood cell (CD4+ T cells) which is crucial to the normal function of the human immune system. In fact, loss of these cells in people with HIV is an extremely powerful predictor of the development of AIDS.


Studies of thousands of people have revealed that most people infected with HIV carry the virus for years before enough damage is done to the immune system for AIDS to develop. However, sensitive tests have shown a strong connection between the amount of HIV in the blood and the decline in CD4+ T cells and the development of AIDS.


Reducing the amount of virus in the body with anti-retroviral therapies can dramatically slow the destruction of a person’s immune system. AIDS is a technical word-defined by the federal government and is diagnosed by having a T-cell (the most basic element of the immune system) count of less then 200 or the presence of certain opportunistic infections.

HIV is the virus, AIDS is the disease, and “HIV disease” is the most appropriate way to describe the continuum of HIV and AIDS.

2. How is HIV transmitted?

The virus must be present; meaning an individual must be infected with HIV in order to infect others. The virus needs access into the other person’s bloodstream. HIV is introduced into the bloodstream through open cuts or sores and through contact with mucus membranes. Transmission is most likely when body fluids that have high concentrations of the virus are exchanged.

Blood, breast milk, semen and vaginal fluid discharged during sexual activity can contain high concentrations of the virus. Oral contact with blood and vaginal fluids presents a risk of infection as well. The virus has not been found in sweat or tears.

3. Are condoms effective in preventing HIV transmission?

condomsThe Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) states that correct and consistent use of a latex barrier for protection during sex greatly reduces the risk of transmitting HIV. Knowing how to use a latex barrier correctly is important. Failure is largely due to incorrect or inconsistent use. Make sure that the barrier is latex or polyurethane—natural or lambskin have pores that HIV is able to pass through, and should not be used.

Also, never use oil-based lubricants like Vaseline®, baby oil, or lotion, which can cause tears and leaks in the latex, ultimately causing it to break. Instead, use a water-based lubricant such as K-Y Jelly®, Wet®, ID®, or Astroglide®. Observe the expiration date on the package and tear it open carefully. Never use a product that has been exposed to heat or the sun.


How to use a condom correctly

4. Can mosquitos transmit HIV?

mosquitoMosquitoes or other sucking and biting insects do not transmit HIV. For a mosquito to infect someone, it would have to bite a person who was infected. Then, it would have to both immediately travel to someone else and infect that person from tiny drops of infected blood left on the sucker, or it would have to process the virus in its saliva and inject it into the next person. Mosquitoes do neither of these things.


They do not travel from person to person. They do not carry enough blood on their suckers to infect anyone else they bite. And, they do not process the virus in their saliva. Once inside a mosquito, the virus lives for only a short time. Thus, the saliva mosquitoes inject into people cannot have HIV. If HIV were spread via animals and insects, there would be a high infection rate in people of all ages.

5. How do HIV medications work?

medsPeople with HIV or AIDS can do a number of things to stay healthy, which is why it is important to know your status. Although there is no treatment that cures HIV, drugs are available that can prevent AIDS related pneumonia and other serious diseases, known as opportunistic infections.

Other medications are available to help the body fight the virus itself. However, many of these drugs have unintended, harmful side-effects. 

Talk with your doctor, or check out to learn more about your treatment options.

6. Where can I get tested for HIV?

San Francisco has HIV testing locations all around the city. See the Testing section of this website for hours, locations, and details.

7. Where can I get more information about HIV?

Other great websites to check out:

8. What is the window period?

The time period from the first point of exposure with HIV to the development of measurable HIV antibodies. The window period usually runs two weeks to 12 weeks and may last as long as six months, and in very rare cases even longer. During the window period, an HIV-infected person may test negative for HIV antibodies.


9. TestingWhy should I get tested?

You can not generally tell by looking at someone whether he or she has HIV. A person could be infected with HIV and not know it. The virus takes time before there maybe noticeable effects. A person can have HIV for ten years or more before the symptoms of AIDS appear. The only way to know if you are infected is with a test.


10. What does the term HIV Disease mean?

Any one who tests positive for HIV antibodies is infected with HIV. “HIV disease” is a term that refers to HIV infection.