Arm Yourself With Information

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.

Human Immunodeficiency Virus

HIV stands for Human Immunodeficiency Virus, a retrovirus that, once inside the human body, weakens a person’s immune system by replicating and destroying important cells that fight disease and infection.

HIV attacks the body’s immune system, specifically the CD4 cells, often called T cells, reducing the body’s ability to fight off infections and disease.

Subsequently, opportunistic infections or cancers take advantage of a very weak immune system.

No effective cure exists for HIV. But with proper medical care, HIV can be controlled.

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 - The Difference between HIV & AIDS

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.

HIV Treatment

Those infected with HIV can live healthy, happy lives with treatment called Antiretroviral Therapy (ART).  Although the treatment must be taken on a daily basis, in most cases it’s as simple as one pill per day! Once you know you are HIV+, it’s important to begin treatment immediately; delaying it will allow the virus to continue harming your immune system. If taken properly, HIV+ individuals can become undetectable while on ART and greatly reduce the risk of passing HIV on to others.

Don’t let the cost of a prescription become a barrier to treatment. AIDS Outreach can help you navigate insurance, explore alternative options to help with the cost, and talk about any concerns you may have. Please view our services for more information.

What Does Undetectable Mean?

Undetectable is a term used when an individual who takes HIV medication suppresses the viral load of HIV in their blood to the point that a test for the virus does not come back positive.

If you take HIV medicine and get and keep an undetectable viral load, you have effectively no risk of transmitting HIV to an HIV-negative partner through sex.

This concept is sometimes summarized as Undetectable = Untransmittable (U=U)

HIV Risk

The only way to know if you have HIV is to be tested.

It’s recommended that everyone be tested at least once in their life. However, if you are at risk, testing at frequent intervals is recommended.

Risk factors of HIV:

  • Are sexually active
  • Have a new partner or unprotected sex with a partner whose HIV status you do not know, or are unsure of
  • Having more than one sexual partner
  • Received blood or blood products before 1985
  • Used Intravenous drugs or shared needles with others
  • Had sex with someone who shoots drugs and shares needles with others
  • Shared needles for tattooing or body piercing

How to Prevent HIV

    • PrEP is a preventative treatment for HIV.  The most common form is a daily pill called Truvada.
    • PrEP must be prescribed by a doctor. We are happy to help connect you to a provider and assist in acquiring financial assistance.
    • PrEP must be taken before you are exposed in order for it to work.
  • Condoms are extremely effective at preventing the exchange of fluids that transmit the virus

How to Prevent HIV

  • PeP (Post-exposure Prophylaxis)
    • PeP is similar to PrEP but it is administered after an exposure.
    • If you believe you are at risk of HIV after sex with a partner, contact an Emergency room to find out if PeP is an option for you.
  • Frequent Testing - Knowing you and your partners' HIV status allows informed sexual decisions that can help reduce risk of transmission.

Assess Your HIV Risk

Using the CDC's tool, you can adjust and vary the factors so that they’re specific to your own personal behaviors and circumstances.

CDC Risk Reduction Tool
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