When it comes to understanding HIV and AIDS, it’s essential to be armed with some basic information. It’s important to know that while HIV is a life-long condition, it’s not a death sentence, and that treatment is available and for free. Here, we list a few frequently asked questions (FAQs) to guide you on prevention techniques that lower your risk and those of your loved ones; where to get tested and avail of treatment options; and how to live a long, productive life with HIV.
1. What does HIV stand for?
HIV stands for Human Immunodeficiency Virus, a deadly virus that attacks the body’s immune system, specifically the CD4 T cells. If left untreated, HIV can lead to AIDS.
2. What is AIDS?
Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome is a set of symptoms and illnesses that develop as a result of advanced HIV infection. AIDS is the last stage of HIV infection when HIV has severely damaged the immune system and the body can’t fight off opportunistic infections.
3. Is there a cure for HIV?
There is still no cure for HIV, but there are antiretroviral (ARV) medications that are used to treat it. Taken with the proper medical care, these antiretroviral drugs can dramatically prolong lives, promote health, and prevent HIV transmission.
4. How is HIV transmitted?
HIV can be transmitted through the following:
- Unprotected sexual contact (vaginal, anal, oral)
- Sharing of needles
- Mother to baby during pregnancy, birth, or breastfeeding
A person CANNOT get infected through air or water; saliva, sweat or tears; insects or pets; sharing toilets, food, drinks or utensils and; swimming or hugging.
5. When should I get tested for HIV?
- If you answer YES to one or more of the following questions, you should get tested!
- Did you have sex with someone with HIV?
- Have you had more than one sexual partner since your last HIV test?
- Do you share needles when using drugs?
- Did you exchange sex for drugs and money?
- Have you been diagnosed with a sexually transmitted infection, TB or hepatitis?
- Have you had sex with someone with any of the above or whose sexual history you don’t know?
Click here to download a listing of national and local government-run testing and treatment facilities.
6. What happens if I test negative?
This is good news! But if your exposure was recent, you could still have HIV. Ask a medical professional about the “window period”, or the 3-6 months period of time after a person is infected and during which they won’t test positive or appear asymptomatic.
7. What happens if I test positive?
If you receive a reactive HIV screening result, your blood will be sent for a confirmation test to the STD/AIDS Cooperative Central Laboratory (SACCL) at San Lazaro Hospital. Once a positive status is confirmed, a counselor (sometimes called a "case manager") will be assigned to your care. The counselor will link you to an HIV healthcare provider, as well as help you adjust and become accustomed to your treatment regimen.
8. What steps can I take to protect myself from contracting HIV?
It’s important to practice prevention by taking these steps:
- Observe abstinence
- Be faithful to your partner (or limit your number of sexual partners).
- Always use a condom, and in the right way!
- Don’t do drugs or share needles.
- Get educated about HIV and AIDS.
- Get tested routinely (every 3-12 months) if you are at risk.
- Learn risk-reduction measures during sex.
- Ask about PrEP (pre-exposure prophylactic), a drug that can protect your partner from HIV.
- Get tested and treated for other sexually transmitted infections.
9. What is PrEP and how does it work to prevent HIV transmission?
PrEP is medicine that can serve to prevent HIV from establishing a permanent infection, taken precisely as instructed by a physician BEFORE engaging in activities (such as sex or injecting drugs) that place you at high risk of getting HIV. Here's an excellent resource on PrEP by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) of the United States government.
In the Philippines, PrEP is available through LoveYourself, the Makati Medical Center, and other facilities. If you'd like to explore PrEP as an option, make sure to consult with a physician who has been trained to prescribe it properly. Instructions on timing and dosages have to be followed precisely for PrEP to work as expected.
10. How can antiretroviral (ARV) medicine help with my HIV treatment?
Coupled with a healthy lifestyle, taking your ARV everyday will stop the virus from weakening your immune system. In about a year, the amount of virus in your body will be reduced to an undetectable level. At this point, your body will be healthy and disease-free and you can’t pass on the virus to others. The sooner you start treatment, the better!
11. How much do ARVs cost? Are they expensive?
ARV is for FREE. The Department of Health or DOH provides free ARV drugs through your local treatment facility.
12. I’d like to keep my HIV status a secret. Is this possible? And who do I turn to for help?
You can get treatment without your family or friends knowing about your HIV status. We can also link you up with a support group or a case manager that understands what you’re going through. Check out HIV.ph for a list of organizations you can turn to for support and treatment.
13. Will having HIV affect my quality of life?
Life goes on and many people live well with HIV. You can still have a long, happy and fulfilling life and pursue your work and passions. You can still love and be loved, and uphold your right to health and non-discrimination.