What is AIDS?
AIDS (Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome) is a disease that causes the body
to lose its natural protection against infection. A person with AIDS is more
likely to become ill from infections and unusual types of pneumonia and cancer
which healthy persons normally can fight off.
What causes AIDS?
AIDS is caused by a virus called HIV, or Human Immunodeficiency Virus, which
attacks certain white blood cells that protect the body against illness.
How does someone get HIV?
HIV is hard to get. However, both men and women can become infected with HIV
and can give the virus to someone else. HIV is found in the blood, semen and
vaginal secretions of infected persons and can be spread in the following ways:
- Having sex -- vaginal, anal or oral -- with an HIV-infected person (male
- Sharing drug needles or syringes with an HIV-infected person to inject or
- From an HIV-infected woman to her baby during pregnancy or during birth.
An infected mother also can pass HIV to her baby when breastfeeding.
HIV cannot be spread through:
- Shaking hands
- Coughs or sneezes
- Eating food prepared or handled by an HIV-infected person
- Donating blood
- Toilet seats
- Sweat or tears
- Simple kisses
- Everyday contact with HIV-infected persons at school, work, home or
What is an HIV antibody test?
It is a blood or oral test that can determine whether antibodies to HIV, the
virus that causes AIDS, are present in a persons body. Antibodies are
produced after infection with HIV. There is no test for AIDS itself.
Should I take one of the tests?
You should seriously consider taking an HIV antibody test if you:
- are a man who has sex with other men;
- have shared needles or syringes to inject drugs;
- have sexual relationships with several partners;
- are a hemophiliac who received clotting factor prior to 1986;
- have sex or have had sex with someone who falls into one of the above
The decision to take or not take an HIV antibody test is a very personal
choice. Thats why counseling is a large part of the Illinois Department
of Public Healths testing program. Every person meets individually with a
trained health professional at various stages of testing... before, during and
after the actual HIV test.
What kind of counseling is provided?
First, individuals receive complete information on HIV testing to help them
determine whether they should be tested.
After the test, a counselor explains the test result and talks about ways to
reduce the risk of getting or transmitting HIV.
The counseling helps those who test understand how HIV infection may change
their lives and those around them. Counseling also helps make people understand
changes they must make in their behavior to reduce the risk of getting or
Where are HIV antibody tests given?
Anonymous or confidential counseling and testing are available at many
health departments and community agencies, including some outreach testing
sites. Call the Illinois Department of Public Health toll-free AIDS/HIV &
STD hotline at 1-800-243-2437 for the location nearest you. Or contact your
personal physician to arrange for a test.
Exactly how is HIV antibody testing done?
The actual HIV antibody test is done in three steps. First, after pre-test
counseling, a blood or oral (between the gum and cheek) sample is taken and
sent to a laboratory for a test called the ELISA (Enzyme Linked Immunosorbent
If the results of the first test are positive, a second ELISA is done on the
If the second ELISA is also positive, an additional test, called the Western
blot, is done. Based on the findings, physicians and other medical specialists
can find out if antibodies to HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, are present in
It is important to know that none of these tests are foolproof. Whether the
result is positive or negative, results must be discussed with each individual
by a trained health care professional.
What does a negative test mean?
A negative result means that no HIV antibodies were found. This usually
means you are not infected. However, if you engaged in behavior that can
transmit the virus within 6 months before the test, you may be infected but
test negative because your body has not yet made enough antibodies. To be sure,
you should be retested.
What does a positive test mean?
A positive result means antibodies to HIV were found. This means you have
HIV infection. You are infected for life and can spread HIV to others. You are
likely to develop AIDS, but no one can know when you will get sick. Within 10
years after infection, about half of untreated people have developed AIDS.
Prompt medical care may delay the onset of AIDS and prevent some life-
It is important that you see a doctor so that your health as a whole can be
It is also important that you understand how to prevent the spread of HIV,
both for your health and the health of those you care about.
If my test is positive, how should I change my behavior?
If you test positive, dont worry about normal contact with family,
friends or fellow employees. Hugging, shaking hands and other types of casual
contact will NOT spread HIV.
However, there are steps you should take to protect the health of others:
- You may infect others if you engage in behavior that can transmit HIV
(sexual intercourse -- vaginal, anal and oral -- or sharing needles or
syringes). Never share needles or syringes.
- If you remain sexually active, always use latex condoms. Use them from
beginning to end every time you have sex and make sure to use them properly.
Counseling can help answer questions about unsafe sexual behavior.
- If you are a woman considering pregnancy, you are strongly urged to
discuss your plans with your doctor. Drug therapy during pregnancy and after
the birth can reduce the risk of your baby being infected with HIV.
- Do not donate blood, organs, sperm or bone marrow. Revise any organ donor
permissions you have given.
- Tell any doctor or dentist who treats you that you are infected.
There is no known risk of spreading HIV except in situations in which others
come in contact with your blood, semen or vaginal fluids.
You should tell anyone with whom you have had sex (vaginal, anal or oral) or
shared needles that you are (and they may be) infected with HIV. It is
especially important that you tell current and recent partners. Health
professionals can tell your sexual and/or drug-using partner(s) for you or help
you tell them yourself. All of your present and past partners should be
referred for counseling and testing. If they are HIV positive, prompt medical
care may delay the onset of AIDS and prevent some life-threatening conditions.
Also, they may unknowingly infect others. You have an important role to play in
helping stop the spread of HIV infection.
Telling people about your test result can be a very sensitive matter. You
may want to discuss it with your testing counselor. If you choose to tell your
partners yourself, do not make accusations. Be prepared for partners to become
upset or hostile. Urge them to be counseled and tested as soon as possible.
If my test is negative, do I still need to change my behavior?
If your test is negative, you should protect yourself against future
infection. To avoid infection through sex, abstain or maintain a relationship
in which both partners are faithful. Routine use of condoms will greatly reduce
your chances of getting HIV. And, if you do drugs, dont share needles.
Can people who test positive still have children?
If you are a woman who has tested positive or if your sexual partner has
tested positive, you should strongly consider the consequences of pregnancy.
Talk with your doctor about your plans.
The Facts for Life
- AIDS is a disease caused by HIV (Human Immunodeficiency Virus).
- A person infected with HIV may have no symptoms but can still infect
- HIV is spread through sex with an infected person. Both men and women can
- To avoid HIV infection through sex, dont have sex, or have sex only
with a partner who isnt infected and has sex only with you.
- Using condoms correctly every time you have sex reduces the risk of HIV
- An infected woman can pass HIV to her baby during pregnancy or when the
baby is being born.
- HIV is spread by sharing needles.
- Donating blood is safe.
- HIV is not spread by hugs, handshakes or kisses.
- HIV is not spread by mosquitoes.
- There is no cure or vaccine for HIV.
Where can I get more information on HIV and AIDS testing?
Talk with your doctor or local health department. You also can call the
Illinois Department of Public Health toll-free AIDS/HIV & STD hotline at
1-800-243-2437 or TTY-1-800-782-0423.
All of your questions will be answered in strict confidence.