Human Immunodeficiency Virus, (HIV) is the virus that causes AIDS, (Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome.) Over time, it destroys the important cells that fight disease and infection. HIV is found in blood, semen, vaginal fluids and breast milk, which can be passed on to others through contact with these bodily fluids.

More than one million people are estimated to be living with HIV in the United States. Unfortunately, only one in seven people know they are infected with HIV. There are approximately six hundred people living with HIV in Montana with an average of twenty new cases diagnosed annually. Together, we can lower these numbers with testing, support and education.

There are three stages of HIV:

Stage One

Acute HIV Infection: Within 2-4 weeks of infection, you may experience a flu-like illness that can last for several weeks. HIV is highly contagious at this point, and although many people do not have any symptoms, they can still easily pass on the virus.

Stage Two

Clinical Latency (HIV inactivity or dormancy): During this stage, HIV is still active, and still may be reproducing at very low levels. Many people will not have symptoms. If left untreated, this phase can last a decade or longer, but with proper medication Antiretroviral Therapy (ART), this stage can last for several decades. While the virus is still active and can be passed on, it can be reduced to non-detectable levels, making it less likely to pass on.

Stage Three

There is a difference between HIV and AIDS. HIV is the virus that causes AIDS. Once the virus weakens your immune system to a point that where you can’t fight certain infections or your immune cells have dropped to a certain point, it then is called AIDS. If you start treating HIV before your immune system gets weak, your body will rebound faster and you will have the immune system of someone who is not infected with HIV. This is why it is so important to know if you have HIV and if you do, to start treatment as soon as possible. The good news is that HIV is manageable. If taken daily and correctly, Antiretroviral Therapy (ART) can extend the life of infected individuals to nearly the same amount of time as a non-infected person. Before ART, those infected with HIV progressed to AIDS within a few years. This is why it is so important to know your status, and seek treatment early on. You need a prescription for ART. We will help you find a provider who is knowledgeable about HIV and will work to keep you healthy.