What Is HIV?

HIV stands for “Human Immunodeficiency Virus,” which is a virus that attacks the immune system by destroying CD4+ cells – a type of white blood cell. This makes it difficult for the body to fight infection and stay healthy. If left untreated, HIV can lead to a diagnosis of AIDS (Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome), and potentially death. There is currently no cure for HIV, but it is treatable and preventable. With treatment, a person living with HIV can live just as long as someone who does not have HIV. The only way to know if you are living with HIV is to get yourself tested.

What Is AIDS?

AIDS stands for Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome, which is a diagnosis that can be caused by leaving HIV untreated. If left untreated, HIV usually causes AIDS within 7-10 years after becoming infected. In the United States, AIDS is diagnosed when a person is living with HIV and one or both of the following happens:

  1. A person’s CD4+ cell count drops below 200 per microliter of blood.
  2. A person gets an opportunistic infection (OI). For more information about OIs, check out the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) website.

What Is the Difference Between HIV and AIDS?

HIV is the virus than can cause AIDS if left untreated. HIV is a virus, while AIDS is a diagnosis. In other words, a person cannot contract or transmit AIDS, but can contract or transmit HIV.

How Do You Get HIV?

There are six bodily fluids that transmit HIV when they contain HIV and enter the bloodstream of someone who does not have HIV:

  1. Blood
  2. Semen
  3. Pre-ejaculate (pre-cum)
  4. Vaginal Fluid
  5. Breast Milk
  6. Rectal Mucous

HIV is usually transmitted by having sex (oral, vaginal, anal) without condoms or by sharing needles. HIV can also be transmitted during childbirth, but that is rare nowadays if the person giving childbirth knows they are living with HIV and they are on treatment.

HIV is not transmitted by casual contact such as hugging, kissing, sharing a drinking glass or holding hands. Toilet seats do not transmit HIV, either.

What Are the Symptoms of HIV?

Within the first 2 to 4 weeks after infection, some people may experience a flu-like illness that can last anywhere from a few days to several weeks. However, some people may not feel sick at all during this time. In fact, people with HIV may not show any symptoms for up to 10 years. The only way to know if you are living with HIV is to get yourself tested.

  • Our 24/7 Advice Nurse is available at no charge for all UC Davis students to discuss heath concerns and the need for medical care. They can be reached at 530-752-2349.

How Do You Test for HIV?

Tests for HIV can be done through either blood or an oral swab.

  • Check out GYT UC Davis for information about getting yourself tested on and off campus.
  • To find a place to get yourself tested for STIs – including HIV – in Davis and the surrounding area, check out the UC Davis Sexcess Map.
  • If you are covered under another person’s health plan in California and are concerned about confidentiality, then you can check out My Health, My Info for assistance with submitting a Confidential Communication Request to your insurance provider.

How Do You Prevent HIV?

While there is still no cure for HIV, it is 100% preventable. Here are some ways to prevent HIV:

  1. Abstinence. This means not doing anything that can transmit HIV – such as having sex or sharing needles.
  2. Use barrier methods (e.g., external condoms, internal condoms, dental dams or capes) consistently and correctly during vaginal, anal or oral sex.
    • Check out The Love Lab on campus for free safer sex products and honest, accurate sexual health information.
    • Check out the UC Davis Sexcess Map to find safer sex products on and off campus.
  3. Use sterile needles instead of sharing.
  4. Pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP). PrEP is daily medicine that can reduce your chance of getting HIV. Talk to your provider about whether or not PrEP could be right for you.
    • Providers at SHCS can prescribe PrEP. If you are interested in booking an appointment to be evaluated for PrEP, please contact your provider via Health-e-Messaging to discuss your options. You may also ask your provider about PrEP during any other appointment.
    • Watch our video about PrEP.
  5. Post-exposure prophylaxis (PEP). PEP is HIV medication that can prevent HIV if taken as directed as soon as possible after being exposed to HIV – up to 72 hours. The sooner PEP is taken, the more effective it is, so visit your healthcare provider immediately.
  6. Being “undetectable.” If a person living with HIV is “undetectable,” that means they are being treated for HIV and have a very low amount of HIV in their blood. According to the CDC, people living with HIV who become and stay undetectable have “effectively no risk” of transmitting HIV to their HIV-negative partner(s). Treatment is prevention! 

What If You’re Diagnosed with HIV?

The first thing you should know is that you are normal and that you are still awesome!

People living with HIV can live long and healthy lives with treatment, which should be started immediately. It is very important that you follow your treatment plan accordingly, and also that you tell your partner(s) so that they can get themselves tested and treated, too.

Here are some resources for finding support: