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Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) Guide

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The term AIDS (Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome) refers to the most advanced stages of an infection caused by the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV). HIV is most often spread by having sex with an infected partner. Another way to spread HIV is by having contact with infected blood from contaminated needles, syringes, or other drug equipment.

HIV can’t be cured. But it can be controlled. And much of the damage from the infection can be reversed or prevented. But if HIV is left untreated, serious infections and cancers occur because of the weakened immune system. And the virus can be passed on to others.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), about 1.5 million adults and teens are living with HIV infection in the U.S. Many more people are living with HIV infection outside the U.S., particularly in sub-Saharan Africa. The HIV epidemic is still not well-controlled in some parts of the world. But this is improving steadily as effective medicines have become more widely available.

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HIV screening may lead to earlier diagnosis. That can improve treatment and prevent HIV transmission to others. The CDC recommends that everyone between the ages of 13 and 64 get tested for HIV at least once as part of routine health care.

A general rule for those with risk factors is to get tested annually. Risk factors include:

  • Having vaginal or anal sex with a person infected with HIV whose virus is not under control. Sexual contact is the most common way the virus is spread. The virus enters the body through the lining of the vagina, penis, rectum, or mouth during sexual activity. Unprotected anal sex has the highest risk of transmission.
  • Having multiple sex partners. This includes any partners whose HIV status is not known. It also includes a partner who has HIV, but whose virus is not under control or is uncertain of the control of their HIV.
  • Having high-risk sexual partners. This includes a partner who has a sexually transmitted infection (STI), is a sex worker, or has sex with many other people. Someone who injects or sniffs drugs is also a high-risk partner.
  • Sharing needles, syringes, or other drug equipment with someone with HIV whose virus is not under control or someone with uncertain HIV status.

The CDC also recommends that all pregnant women be tested for HIV. This testing can be a part of other prenatal testing when learning of a new pregnancy. Also, women at high risk should be screened again during the third trimester. Advances in HIV research have made it possible for people with HIV to give birth to babies who are free of HIV.

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No cure exists for HIV/AIDS, but medications can control HIV, prevent disease progression and reach viral suppression. With treatment, most people with HIV in the U.S. don’t develop AIDS.

  • Antiretroviral therapy. A treatment with several HIV medicines taken at the same time. These medicines work together to control the virus. They can restore your immune system and prevent future harm to it. These medicines can also help stop the spread of the virus to others. It works best if the person with HIV takes the medicines routinely.

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  • Genitourinary Services: Services to treat conditions, illnesses, or diseases of the genitals or urinary system.
  • Laboratory Services: Services that test blood, urine, saliva, or other items from the body for conditions, illnesses, or diseases.
  • Medication Management Services: Services to help people understand and make the best choices for taking medication.

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  • STD Check offers free HIV testing to individuals who need it most. This program allows you to schedule with ease through the phone for a visit at a nearby lab with fast results. Call STD Check at 1- 800-456-2323 Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Eastern.
  • The Florida HIV/AIDS Hotline is the statewide resource for HIV/AIDS-related information, community referrals and supportive telephone counseling. Callers receive information on HIV and AIDS related issues including locations of testing sites and program services in Florida. The Hotline services are available in English 1-800-352-2437, Spanish 1-800-545-7432, Creole/Kreyol 1-800-243-7101 and for Deaf or Hard of Hearing 1-888-503-7118. They also offer text services – Text FLHIV or flhiv to 898211.
  • San Francisco Suicide Prevention offers the HIV Nightline to provide hotline. It helps people who tested HIV positive, people in later stages of AIDS and caregivers. It helps those feeling isolated and/or concerned about their medications, caregivers feeling stress and people concerned about HIV risks. Call 800-628-9240. They also offer the HIV Textline for those that prefer texting. Text 1-415-200-2920 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
  • Siloam Wellness offers an HIV/AIDS Support Group for those living with HIV to revitalize their mental health and feel less isolated. For more information, call 1-215-765-6633 Monday through Friday 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Eastern or email
  • Visit the Krames Health Library to access thousands of health sheets on medications, conditions and more. Visit the Community Resource Database to get connected with programs and supports in your area that can help with food, shelter, education, jobs and more.

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Contact Sunshine Health Member Services at 1-866-796-0530 (TTY: 1-800-955-8770) Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Eastern.