HIV Frequently Asked Questions

There are many ways people can fight HIV stigma in our lives and in our community, whether you are a person living with HIV or HIV-negative.  In many cases, stigma around HIV exists alongside other forms of stigma and discrimination, such as: discrimination against people who are lesbian, gay, bi-sexual (called homophobia); discrimination against people who are transgender (transphobia); and, discrimination or stigma directed at people who use drugs.  Ageism, or negative feelings toward people who are young or old, can also play a role in HIV stigma. To effectively address HIV stigma, it is important to address homophobia, transphobia, stigma directed to people who use drugs and ageism.  Reducing stigma around HIV is about promoting a community where people are accepted for who they are, and we celebrate our similarities and differences.  Here is some idea for how to address stigma:


Challenge attitudes, beliefs and behaviors that contribute to HIV stigma. Don’t be a silent witness to it when it happens around you.
  •  Break the silence around HIV in your community. Acknowledge HIV just as you would any other chronic illness.
  • Get information about HIV testing and know your own HIV status.
  • Treat people living with HIV with compassion and acceptance.
  • Learn supportive ways to react when someone tells you they are living with HIV.
  • Educate your community that HIV is not transmitted through casual contact.
  • Avoid using language that overtly stigmatizes others.
  • Treat people living with HIV as you would treat anyone else: with respect, empathy, and compassion.

A person can tell if his or her HIV treatment is working by looking at the results of the blood tests that measure viral load and the health of the immune system. An HIV treatment regimen is considered effective if: it’s able to control HIV to the point that the virus is “undetectable”; or the CD4 count is close to or within the normal range. Even when HIV treatment is effective, the virus is still present, but the viral load level is low enough that HIV is considered controlled.

HIV is treated by taking a combination of medications. The different medications fight the virus at different stages. The health care provider will use a lab test called a genotype test or resistance test to determine the most effective treatment regimen for the patient. The good news is that pharmaceutical companies combine the different antiretroviral medications into one pill. This means that for many patients, treating HIV may be as simple as taking one pill, once a day. It is important to seek treatment for HIV as early as possible. Getting early HIV treatment will help keep people living with HIV healthy and prevent HIV from affecting how long they live or how well they feel. The pills have either no side effects or manageable side effects. Taking the medications consistently is the most important key to staying healthy and feeling well. Once a person begins to feel well, that does not mean they should stop taking their medicine. In order for HIV medication to be the most effective, it should be taken every day even if the person feels healthy. When people living with HIV who see their healthcare provider regularly and take their medication every day, there is a very good chance that they will become virally suppressed. Viral suppression, sometimes known as being undetectable, is an important goal of treatment. Viral suppression means the amount of virus in the person’s blood is below the level the test can identify. If a person living with HIV doesn’t take their medications regularly, the treatment won’t work as well and the amount of HIV in your body will increase. That is called having a detectable viral load. This will eventually lead to damage to the person’s immune system and greater chances of becoming ill. If people living with HIV don’t take their medication regularly, it also can lead to what is called drug resistance. This means the virus can get around the medication and the healthcare provider may have to prescribe a new treatment plan that might be more complicated to take, or possibly have a greater risk of side effects.

A negative test result generally means you do not have HIV. However, if you have had a recent exposure you may be in the “window period.” The window period is the period of time between someone potentially being exposed to HIV and when the test is able to detect it. If the first result comes back negative and there is still concern, getting tested again 3 months after the last possible exposure can help you to be sure. People who have a negative test result but would like to reduce the risk of HIV may want to consider Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis (PrEP). PrEP is a daily pill that people take so they can reduce their worry about acquiring HIV and keep HIV from entering your body. You may want to consider taking PrEP if you are:


  • A gay or bisexual man who has unprotected sex
  • A transgender woman who has sex with men
  • In a relationship with a person who is living with HIV • Someone who has condomless sex with multiple partners • A person who has been diagnosed with an STD in the past 6 months  • People who have injected drugs in the past six months and have shared needles or works

Health care providers should test everyone at least once as part of routine health care. However, if you continue having unprotected sex or sharing injection drug equipment, you should get tested at least once a year. Sexually active gay and bisexual men may benefit from more frequent testing (e.g., every 3 to 6 months). If you think you have had a potential exposure to HIV, you should consider PEP and get tested as soon as possible. If you receive a negative test result, you may want to consider PrEP.

Most people who are living with HIV will have a reactive test, meaning the test found evidence of HIV, within one month of transmission. The period of time after transmission, before the HIV test turns reactive is called the “window period.” When transmission first occurs, the virus begins to reproduce, and the body makes antibodies to fight HIV. When enough virus is present or antibodies are developed, the HIV test will be reactive. Most people living with HIV will develop enough antibodies or have enough virus present to be detected by the latest testing technology two to four weeks after the exposure. Virtually all cases of HIV can be detected by three months after transmission occurs. For a standard HIV test, a blood or oral fluid sample is taken and sent to a laboratory. You will need to call or come back about a week after the test to get your test result. At some clinics and doctors’ offices, you can get a rapid HIV test, which can give you a preliminary result that day. The test takes about 20 minutes. If your rapid HIV test is reactive (meaning HIV virus or antibodies were found), you will need additional testing that is sent to a laboratory. While you are waiting for the final test result, you should practice HIV prevention techniques to protect your partners. When you get your final test result, you will receive information about what the result means, and linkage to care as necessary.

Testing is important because it is the only way to know if you have HIV. The sooner that HIV is detected, the sooner medical care can begin. Getting early HIV treatment will help keep you healthy and prevent HIV from affecting how long you live or how well you feel.

Take PEP. PEP involves taking a combination of HIV medicines for 28 days. PEP should be started as soon as possible, ideally within 2 hours of exposure. Decisions regarding initiation of PEP beyond 36 hours but no longer than 72 hours after the exposure are made on a case by case basis, keeping in mind that the medicine is most effective the closer it can be taken to the exposure.

There is no vaccine to prevent HIV but there are several ways a person can feel confident about avoiding HIV through sexual behavior. Practicing abstinence, that is, not having vaginal or anal intercourse, is one way to protect yourself from HIV. Cuddling, hugging, kissing or mutual masturbation have no risk of passing HIV from one partner to the other. Mutual monogamy, where both partners have been tested and know they are both HIV negative and are not having sex with anyone else, also provides protection. Here are other choices that some people make to avoid HIV. These approaches offer a very high level of protection:
• If you have a partner who is living with HIV, if he or she is on effective treatment and maintains an undetectable viral load (i.e. the person is virally suppressed), for 6 months and beyond the risk of transmission through sex is negligible.
• Using a condom consistently and correctly every time you have sex is extremely effective in preventing HIV.
• Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis (PrEP): PrEP is a once-a-day pill for HIV negative individuals to take in order to prevent HIV. When taken consistently, PrEP has been shown to reduce the risk of HIV by 92-99%.


A woman who has HIV can pass the virus to her baby during:

• pregnancy

• delivery

• breastfeeding

There are medicines that a woman living with HIV should take during pregnancy, labor, and delivery to protect her health and greatly reduce the chance that she will pass the virus to her baby. Medication is also given to the infant right after birth and for the first weeks of life. It is very important for all women to know their HIV status before they become pregnant, or very early in their pregnancy, so that they can take full advantage of these medicines and make informed decisions. A second HIV test is also recommended late in the pregnancy to identify if the woman was exposed to HIV during the pregnancy. Since HIV is also found in breast milk, women living with HIV should not breastfeed their babies.

HIV is not like the flu or a cold. It is not passed through casual contact or by being near a person who with HIV. It cannot be transmitted through saliva, shaking hands, kissing, mosquito bites, living in the same house as someone living with HIV (including sharing utensils or drinking cups), using restrooms, swimming pools, hot tubs, or drinking fountains.

HIV is spread when blood, semen or vaginal fluids from a person living with HIV who is not virally suppressed gets into the bloodstream of another person. These body fluids are present during sexual activity, which explains why HIV can be passed from one person to another during different sexual behaviors. The risk of transmission depends on the type of sexual behavior. Oral sex, when a person puts his or her mouth on another person’s genitals, has a low risk of passing HIV. Vaginal intercourse, when a man puts his penis inside a woman, is a higher risk activity for passing HIV. The sexual behavior with the highest risk is anal intercourse, when a man puts his penis into the anus of another man or woman. If either partner is living with HIV, the virus may be transmitted, especially if blood is present during sex. The risk of transmission for any of these behaviors can be lowered in a variety of ways, including: • Condom use • Antiretroviral treatment for the person living with HIV • Pre-exposure prophylaxis or PrEP, a daily medication that a person who is not living with HIV can take to protect themselves. A person living with HIV who is on HIV treatment and virally suppressed for 6 months or longer has effectively no risk of passing HIV to a partner through sex.

There remains no cure or vaccine for HIV.

There are several steps you can take to reduce the chances of contracting HIV, including:

Use Condoms. Find the right size and choose a type of condom you like.

Use Lube. Use water-based or silicone-based lubricant – particularly for anal or vaginal sex – to prevent tears in the skin and to keep condoms from breaking.

Get Tested. It’s the only way to know if you or a partner has HIV.

Test and Treat STIs. Having an active STI, or even a history of certain STIs, can make it easier to acquire or transmit HIV.

Talk to Your Partners. Ask sexual partners about the last time they got tested for HIV and other STIs. Consider getting tested together.

Date Undetectable. By consistently taking their medication, people living with HIV are able to lower the amount of HIV in their bodies to undetectable levels. While undetectable, a person living with HIV remains in good health, and it is virtually impossible for them to transmit the virus to a partner. Prevention options (e.g., condoms, PrEP) exist for those in relationships where one partner is not yet undetectable.

Be mindful of drug and alcohol use. Substance use can increase your chances of acquiring HIV directly and indirectly, depending on the circumstances.

Change Syringes. If you inject hormones, drugs or steroids, use a new, clean syringe and other injection equipment every time.

Consider PEP. PEP is an HIV prevention strategy that can be used in emergency situations, such as condomless sex with someone whose HIV status you do not know.

Consider PrEP. PrEP is an HIV prevention strategy that can be taken every day to significantly reduce the likelihood of acquiring HIV.

The Ministry of Health recommends everyone between the ages of 13 and 64 get tested for HIV at least once as part of their routine health care. Some people, including gay and bisexual men and transgender women, should consider getting tested more often, as HIV is especially prevalent in these communities. People who are pregnant should get tested in their first trimester.

There are several different ways to test for HIV, from oral swabs to home testing kits. There are also thousands of locations across the country where you can get an HIV test at little or no cost to you. 

The symptoms of HIV vary, depending on the individual and what stage of HIV you are in. In its beginning stage, HIV does not have unique symptoms and can be indistinguishable from the flu, so it is important to get tested regularly. Regular testing ensures that you can detect HIV early and begin treatment as soon as possible.

While HIV is more common in some communities than in others, anyone can acquire HIV through behaviors that are likely to transmit the virus. It’s what you do, not who you are, that increases your chances of contracting HIV.

  • HIV (human immunodeficiency virus) is a virus that attacks the body’s immune system. If HIV is not treated, it can lead to AIDS (acquired immunodeficiency syndrome).
  • There is currently no effective cure. Once people get HIV, they have it for life.
  • But with proper medical care, HIV can be controlled. People with HIV who get effective HIV treatment can live long, healthy lives and protect their partners.