HIV - Viral Infection


HIV stands for Human Immunodeficiency Virus. It is a virus that attacks the immune system, your body's natural way of defending itself. If you have HIV and do not receive treatment, the infection can lead to Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS). Having HIV does not mean you have AIDS. Treatment for people living with HIV is extremely important. It helps slow down or stop the damage done to the immune system and helps stop the infection from being passed on to others. 

How do I get HIV?

HIV is passed through vaginal fluid, blood, pre-cum, and cum during vaginal, oral or anal sex without a condom. In order for you to get HIV, blood or cum from an infected guy has to get into your bloodstream. Unprotected bottoming increases your chance of getting HIV. This is because anal sex can cause small rips in the skin inside your butthole, your guy's butthole or on your penises that can expose you or your guy to the virus. 

HIV is NOT passed through hugging, shaking hands, sharing towels or other forms of casual contact. It is also very difficult to pass HIV through blow jobs. It is NOT PASSED through kissing but you should avoid bleeding gums. 

How do I know if I have HIV?

The only way to know for sure is to get tested. Some people who are HIV-positive may not know and they may not have any signs or symptoms. Most people won't look or feel sick. You can't tell someone has HIV by how "clean" he looks.

If you have any symptoms, you may feel like you have the flu. You may experience headaches, fevers, sore muscles, stomach aches, weight loss, night sweats, fatigue or swollen lymph nodes. 

HIV Testing

The type of test you get for HIV will be different depending on where you go to get tested. Usually the test is a blood test. Regardless of where you go, the tests look for evidence that your body is fighting HIV. Because it takes time for your body to develop this evidence, HIV may not show up on the test results right away. Depending on the type of test, it can take up to three months after you have been exposed to HIV for the test to be positive. Read more about the "window period" below.

HIV testing is confidential. That means you and your doctor are the only ones that see your results. Without your permission, your doctor cannot share your results with your parents, friends, guardians. You should know that if your doctor suspects child abuse or rape of any kind, he/she must report it by law.   

To learn more about where you can get tested for HIV, go here.

It is important to remember that even though HIV tests typically use blood, HIV lives throughout your whole body and can be passed to others through bodily fluids like cum.

What is the window period? 

From the moment HIV enters the body, it takes time for the immune system to develop a response to the infection. Part of the response are proteins called anitbodies. The time period from when HIV enters the body to where there are enough antibodies to become detectable by an HIV test is called the window period. The length of the window period depends on the kind of test you are using.

Newly Diagnosed - What do I do if I have HIV? 

Getting the news you are HIV-positive can be really tough to deal with. Don't panic, take a deep breath, help is available for you. It is OK to feel overwhelmed at first. These are some helpful tips to get you started. 

Medical care - Your Doctor, Labs Tests, Etc.

Even if you don't feel sick it is important to get linked to a medical care provider. The place where you tested should provide a referral to a doctor. Your doctor will be the person who helps you manage your HIV infection and develop a treatment plan that is right for you. That's why is important to have a doctor that is knowledgable about HIV and who you are comfortable talking to about sensitive health issues.

It is important to get as much information as you can from trusted sources. These sites provide good information on a new diagnosis:

Newly Diagnosed: What You Need to Know

Before your first appointment, make a list of questions you want to ask. This can be a good way to organize your thoughts. Some examples of questions are: 

1) What do my lab tests say about my immune system?

2) How will you help me manage my HIV infection?

3) What can I do to stay healthy?

4) How can I protect others from getting infected with HIV?

5) Because I have HIV, will I eventually get AIDS?

6) How will HIV treatment affect my lifestyle? 

7) How should I tell my partner that I have HIV?

This website provides good information about finding a doctor that works for you:

Newly Diagnosed: You and Your Provider

In addition to getting questions ready, here are some terms you may want to know before your first appointment. They can help you understand what your lab results mean:

Immune System: - A complex network of cells, tissues and organs that recognize invaders and defend your body against harmful bacteria or viruses. HIV infection harms this system in your body. 

Antiviral Therapy (ART): The daily use of HIV medications to treat an HIV infection. These medications help decrease the level of HIV virus in your blood. 

CD4 Cells: The white blood cells killed during an HIV infection. These cells are the backbone of your immune system. These are the most important cells to test because they tell us how strong or weak your immune system is. Low numbers of CD4 cells mean that your immune system has been damaged. ART medication can help increase these numbers. 

Viral Load: The amount of HIV in a sample of blood. It is typically highest in the first two to three months of an HIV infection. A high viral load increases the chance of passing on HIV to a sex partner. One of the goals of ART medication is to make a person's viral load "undetectable." When a person reaches an undetectable viral load, they are not cured of HIV, but they are at less of a risk of passing on HIV to their partners or getting more damage to their body. 

This doctor has a good explanation for what "undetectable" means

#AskTheHIVDoc 6: What Does it Mean to Be


For more information about lab results and what they mean, click here.  

Do you want to know more about specific HIV treatments? Read everything you need to know about medication here

Need help finding a doctor?

We can help you! Call 215-985-2437. You can also click here to help locate HIV services near you. 

For more information about HIV and your body, click here.

What if I don't have insurance? 

Navigating the system can be very overwhelming. Regardless of if you have insurance, you can receive HIV care. Cost should not be a barrier in preventing you from receiving the best care possible. To find out how to understand what services are available to you and how to get HIV care call 215-985-2437.

To learn more about paying for HIV care, click here.


Support from one person, whether it is a friend, family member, counselor or medical professional is really helpful. You are not alone in this experience.  If you are not ready to tell other people about your HIV diagnosis, that's OK. Head to our resources page for more information about local support groups, peer counselors and mental health support. 

Talking About Your Status

Talking about your status can be one of the hardest things about finding out you have HIV. You do not need to tell everyone all at once. At this time, it is important to talk about your HIV status to your medical care providers and partners. 

Here is a good resource on how to talk about your HIV status:

Newly Diagnosed: Do You Have To Tell? 

Here is a good resource on how to talk specifically to your guy:

Newly Diagnosed: Talking About Your Status to a Partner

The Law and Disclosing your Status

It is really important to let your partners know your HIV status, particularly if you are not taking medication to treat HIV. Not telling your sex partner that you are HIV positive in PA is not a crime, and you are not obligated to do it. There are some situations where it may be much safer for you not to tell your sex partners. BUT, some laws on the books have been used to prosecute people living with HIV here in Pennsylvania. And if you are HIV positive and do sex work or are in prison, there are laws that can make what was a misdemeanor into a felony (more serious crime).

Here in Philadelphia, if you test positive for HIV, you should know that the positive test result is automatically reported to the Health Department. The Health Department will try to contact you so that they can talk to you about your sex partners and help with getting them any medical services they might need (like testing or treatment or PrEP). All of this is done without ever mentioning your name or information to anyone else.

Here are some good resources about the laws and disclosing your status:

Newly Diagnosed: Legal Disclosure

AIDS Law Project of Philadelphia 

Living with HIV

If you are HIV-positive, it is so important to see your doctor regularly. Try and eat healthy, exercise and maintain strong relationships with your friends and family. If you are having sex, using condoms correctly every time you have oral, anal and vaginal sex will reduce your risk of passing it to another person. It is also important to take your medication like your doctor tells you. See more about preventing other STDs, go here.

I already know I am HIV-positive and want to get back into care. How do I do that?

Getting and staying into care is the best thing you can do for yourself. Please call 215-985-2437.

I am HIV-positive but don't feel sick. Now what? 

Watch this helpful video about why HIV care is so important!

#AskTheHIVDoc 12: But I Don't Feel Sick...?  (1:24)


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