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HIV: The Basics. By Our Student Pharmacist, RJ Rosia.

What is HIV?

HIV, or human immunodeficiency virus, is a virus that can affect the immune system. This virus specifically attacks immune cells that help fight other infections. If left untreated, people can get very sick from such things like pneumonia or the common cold.

People who have HIV can take medications to stop the virus from replicating in the body and help the immune system to remain strong and live a healthy, normal life.

How can you get HIV?

HIV is mainly spread through someone who is infected having unprotected sex with someone else. The virus can be spread by any bodily fluid, such as blood or semen.

There are also other ways someone can be infected such as:

  • Blood transfusion from someone who has HIV.

  • Sharing of needles from someone who has HIV.

What are some of the symptoms of HIV?

The symptoms are very mild at first and might look like a common infection.

Some symptoms include:

  • Fever

  • Sore throat

  • Muscle, joint pain

These symptoms last for about two weeks and most people might not even realize they are sick.

Some more serious symptoms can happen to people who are left untreated for a long time.

These symptoms include:

  • Stomach pain

  • Nausea, Vomiting, Diarrhea

  • Weight loss

Infected people can also get other serious infections, such as infections in the lungs, brain, eyes, and yeast infections in the mouth.

How do you test for HIV?

Testing for HIV nowadays is very easy and requires just a simple blood test that your local provider can do. These tests can be rapid often providing results within the same day.

There are also over-the-counter antibody tests available, however, these tests will only show a positive result if the person has been infected for over a month.

Should you get an HIV test?

Everyone should be tested at least once in their lifetime for HIV. HIV testing is a standard of care and a non-invasive procedure your doctor can provide.

People who have a higher chance of getting infected, such as males who have intercourse with other males, injection drug using individuals, and those who live in a high risk area, should be tested more than once a lifetime.

How can you prevent getting HIV?

There are medications currently available that you can take on a regular basis to help from getting infected with HIV. These medications, called PrEP (pre-exposure prophylaxis), can be prescribed by a doctor, and can be filled at any pharmacy. These medications greatly reduce the risk from contracting HIV from someone who might be infected and not adequately treated.

Currently, there are two medications available and they are taken just once daily. The medications should be covered under any insurance plan and if they are not, there are other ways to get them covered.

Should you be worried when someone tells you they are HIV positive?

No! Nowadays, if a person is taking their medication for HIV as prescribed, the level of virus in their body is so low that the virus is unlikely to spread to someone else. There have been extensive studies done on the risk of spreading the virus and found that if someone who previously has been diagnosed with HIV and is taking their medications appropriately, there is no chance they will spread it to their partner or someone who may be in contact with them.

The bottom line:


Here is a great link to a handout summarizing all about HIV:





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