What is HIV and AIDS?

HIV (Human Immunodeficiency Virus) is a virus that destroys the body’s immune system. This makes it hard for the body to fight off illness. HIV can cause AIDS (Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome), a group of illnesses caused by a severely weakened immune system.

A person can be infected with HIV and not have any symptoms for many years. There are treatments available to prevent illness, as well as to manage symptoms once they develop. It’s important for all people who have HIV to get routine exams by their doctor to make sure treatment is working.

Which populations are at the highest risk of HIV?

  • Gay and bisexual men with multiple sex partners
  • Transgender women who have sex with men
  • Injection drug users
  • People having condomless sex or sharing needles

What are the symptoms of HIV and AIDS?

A person can be infected with HIV and not have any symptoms for many years. That’s why getting tested for HIV is so important. Knowing your HIV status can help you avoid spreading the disease and help you take steps to protect your health so you can live as symptom-free as possible.

Acute HIV infection may mirror symptoms of the common Flu, including:

  • Fever
  • Chills
  • Rash
  • Night sweats
  • Muscle aches
  • Sore throat
  • Fatigue
  • Swollen glands
  • Mouth ulcers

When one has progressed to AIDS, symptoms may include:

  • Rapid weight loss
  • Recurring fever or profuse night sweats
  • Extreme and unexplained tiredness
  • Prolonged swelling of lymph glands in the armpits, groin, neck
  • Diarrhea that lasts for more than a week
  • Sores of the mouth, anus, or genitals
  • Pneumonia
  • Red, brown, pink or purplish blotches on or under the skin or inside the mouth, nose, or eyelids
  • Memory loss, depression, and other neurologic disorders

Accidental exposure to HIV

If you are HIV-negative, or don’t know your HIV status but think you might have been exposed to HIV during sexual contact or sharing needles, we recommend that you visit an urgent care or emergency department immediately to be evaluated for HIV Post Exposure Prophylaxis (PEP).

When should I get tested for HIV?

The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) recommends that everyone between the ages of 13 and 64 be tested for HIV at least once as part of routine health care.
If you suspect or are worried that you may have been exposed to HIV, we recommend that you get tested as soon as possible. Knowing your HIV status will help you get the appropriate treatment. Please know that we are here to support you and provide high-quality care.

It is recommended you have an HIV test completed if one or more of the following applies to you:

  • Have the flu or an illness that no one can diagnose, and you’ve engaged in high-risk behaviors (such as condomless sex with a new partner or sharing needles for IV drug use).
  • Get pneumonia more than twice in a year
  • Have yeast in your mouth (thrush) or in your throat or esophagus
  • Are a woman who keeps getting vaginal yeast infections
  • Have abnormal Pap smears
  • Have a sexually transmitted infection (STI) — also called sexually transmitted diseases — such as syphilis, gonorrhea, chlamydia, herpes simplex virus 2, or human papillomavirus (HPV).
  • Have been diagnosed with hepatitis B or C
  • Find out that a past or present sex partner or needle-sharing partner is infected with HIV

How can I get tested for HIV?

If you are a Kaiser Permanente member and need to get an HIV test, your primary care provider can help facilitate a test for you at one of our Kaiser Permanente clinical locations.

If the test result is positive, your healthcare provider will communicate the results to you immediately and refer you to our Care Pathway Center for ongoing care.

How is HIV transmitted?

HIV spreads from one person to another in the following ways:

  • Having vaginal, anal, or oral sex. You have a higher chance of getting HIV if you don’t use a condom or if you already have another sexually transmitted infection (STI).
  • Sharing needles or equipment for drug use
  • Getting blood into your mucus membranes (eyes, ears, nose, or throat) or bloodstream from a person who is infected with HIV
  • An infected mother giving birth to or breastfeeding her child

HIV is NOT transmitted by:

  • Air or water
  • Saliva, sweat, tears, or kissing
  • Insects or pets
  • Sharing toilets, food, or drinks

Medication treatment

The standard treatment for HIV is a combination of medicines called antiretroviral therapy, or ART.
Antiretroviral medicines slow the rate at which the virus multiplies in your body.
Taking these medicines can reduce the amount of virus in your body and help you stay healthy.
Medical experts recommend that people begin treatment for HIV as soon as they know that they are infected.
To monitor the HIV infection and its effect on your immune system, your healthcare provider will regularly perform two blood tests:

  • HIV VIRAL LOAD, which shows the amount of virus in your blood
  • CD4 CELL COUNT, which shows how well your immune system is working

After you start treatment, it’s important to take your medicine exactly as directed by your healthcare provider. When treatment doesn’t work, it is often because HIV has become unaffected by the medicine. This can happen if you don’t take your medicines correctly.

Ways to prevent HIV