Sexual Health

Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV): What You Need to Know Today

[Author’s note: Welcome to Part 3 of our seven-part series about Sexually Transmitted Infections (STIs), sometimes called venereal diseases or Sexually Transmitted Diseases (STDs). The good news is that as I write this in 2017, researchers are discovering not only new facts, but also new treatments for STIs. The not-so-good-news is that some STIs that were once nearly eradicated are on the rise again and others are becoming resistant to treatment. Click here to read Part 1 of the series. Click here to read Part 2 of the series. Come back on Tuesday, September 5th for Part 4.]

As of this writing, 36 years have elapsed since the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) published a report that turned out to herald the beginning of what became known as the AIDS epidemic. The culprit was the Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV), which could eventually lead to potentially lethal Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS). Although HIV/AIDS originally almost exclusively affected homosexual men, during the more than three decades since 1981 heterosexuals of both genders and all ages have also been affected. On August 22nd 2017, a post noted that nearly half of all people living with HIV are 50 or older.

What’s encouraging, of course, is that these people are in fact living with HIV. HIV/Aids was once virtually a death sentence due to “opportunistic infections” including a cancer called Kaposi’s Sarcoma. Advances in treatment options have meant that infected people are now able to live well for many years. Even so, prevention is important — especially for women in their childbearing years since children born of infected mothers are at risk.

Here are some 2015 statistics from, the most recent ones available:

  • More than 1.1 million people in the U.S. are living with HIV today, and 1 in 7 of them don’t know it.
  • An estimated 37,600 Americans became newly infected with HIV in 2014.
  • Heterosexual contact accounted for 24% (9,339) of HIV diagnoses.
  • Women accounted for 19% (7,402) of HIV diagnoses. Diagnoses among women are primarily attributed to heterosexual contact (86%, or 6,391) or injection drug use (13%, or 980).

How HIV Is Contracted

HiV is transmitted through sexual contact, blood, and body fluids. That includes breast milk. Partners who share needles may get HiV from blood. Years ago people got HiV from blood transfusions but now blood banking is so sophisticated that infected blood is identified and thrown out.

Symptoms of HIV

According to the CDC, the following symptoms may indicate an HiV infection:

  • sudden, unexplained weight loss
  • a persistent, dry cough
  • fevers and night sweats
  • fatigue
  • swollen lymph glands in the armpits, groin, or neck
  • prolonged diarrhea
  • blemishes on the tongue, in the mouth, and in the throat
  • pneumonia
  • colored blotches on or under the skin
  • memory loss
  • depression

Diagnosis of HIV

The Home Access Express HiV-1 Test System is the only self test approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). It’s available at drug stores and online. You get your results by phone using an anonymous PIN.

Your doctor can give you or a potential sexual partner an HIV test that offers results more quickly than the home test. Also, the CDC web site lists testing centers around the country. Enter your Zip Cost to find a center near you.


Guidelines from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services recommend beginning antiretroviral therapy (ART) as soon as you can after a diagnosis of HIV. The most commonly prescribed is a drug “cocktail” called highly active antiretroviral therapy (HAART). As with any medications, there can be side effects. However, keeping the infection at bay is paramount. Discuss side effects, if any, with your doctor.

Also, keep in mind that HAART and other regimens are not cures for HIV. If you fail to adhere to your medication schedule or stop taking the medications, the infection will manifest itself once more.

Again, please come back on Tuesday, September 5th for Part 4 of our STI series!

Sondra Forsyth is Co-Editor-in-Chief of

you may also like

Recipes We