HIV (human immunodeficiency virus) is a virus that attacks the body’s immune system. If HIV is not treated, it can lead to AIDS (acquired immunodeficiency syndrome).

There is currently no effective cure. Once people get HIV, they have it for life. However, with proper medical care, HIV can be controlled. People with HIV who get effective HIV treatment can live long, healthy lives and protect their partners.

HIV Symptoms

Some people have flu-like symptoms within 2 to 4 weeks after infection (called acute HIV infection). These symptoms may last for a few days or several weeks. Possible symptoms include:

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

Some people may not feel sick during acute HIV infection. These symptoms don’t mean you have HIV. Other illnesses can cause these same symptoms.

If HIV is not treated, the immune system weakens over time, and you may develop symptoms of advanced HIV or AIDS. These symptoms can be different for each person. They may include weight loss, fatigue, fevers, recurrent infections, diarrhea, lymph node swelling or opportunistic infections due to a weak immune system.

See a healthcare provider if you have these symptoms and think you may have been exposed to HIV. Getting tested for HIV is the only way to know for sure.

How Is HIV Diagnosed?

HIV is diagnosed through testing. Multiple types of tests are available, and a blood or saliva sample may be used, depending on the test.

  • A nucleic acid test (NAT) is performed on blood drawn from a vein and looks for viruses in the blood. This test can tell if a person has HIV and how much virus is in the blood (this is known as an HIV viral load). A NAT can diagnose HIV early after a person is exposed.
  • An antigen/antibody test looks for antibodies and antigens. Antigens are parts of the virus, and antibodies are produced by your body against the infection.
  • HIV antibody tests look for antibodies in your blood. Antibodies are produced by your immune system against infection. Most rapid tests are antibody tests. If you have been exposed to HIV very recently, an antibody test may not be reliable.
  • Levels of immune cells in the blood called CD4 cells (or T helper cells) are measured to determine how HIV has affected the health of your immune system.

Talk to your healthcare provider about what type of HIV test is right for you.

How Is HIV Treated?

HIV treatment is called antiretroviral therapy or ART. Treatment involves taking medicine as prescribed by a healthcare provider. Treatment is recommended for nearly everyone with HIV.

There is no cure for HIV. But, with treatment, HIV can be controlled, and people with HIV can often live a normal life span and have a normal family and sex life.

The goal of HIV treatment is to decrease the amount of virus in the blood. When the level of virus gets low enough, it cannot be detected by our lab tests. This is called an undetectable viral load. When your viral load is undetectable, you will not transmit HIV through sex. CD4 levels will increase with effective HIV treatment.

HIV Causes

HIV (human immunodeficiency virus) is a virus that attacks the body’s immune system. If HIV is not treated, it can lead to AIDS (acquired immunodeficiency syndrome). HIV is transmitted from person to person through infected bodily fluids.

HIV can be transmitted by:

  • Sexual contact. Some behaviors can increase the risk of becoming infected with HIV.
  • Vaginal or anal sex is the most common way HIV is transmitted
  • Having multiple sex partners increases the risk of transmission
  • High-risk sexual partners include partners who have sex with many other people, partners with sexually transmitted infections, partners who use drugs, and partners who are sex workers.
  • Sharing needles, syringes, or other drug equipment to inject drugs
  • Mother to baby during pregnancy, birth, or breastfeeding

HIV is NOT transmitted by:

  • Saliva, sweat, tears
  • Insects or pets
  • Sharing toilets, food, or drink
  • Swimming pools

Risk Factors

Most people get HIV through anal or vaginal sex or sharing needles, syringes or other drug injection equipment (for example, cookers). 

Some groups are more affected by HIV.

  • Most new HIV infections are in the Southern United States, including Florida.
  • Young people are especially affected by HIV.
  • Men who have sex with men are most at risk for infection by HIV, especially Black/African American and Latino/Hispanic populations.

Some factors can increase risk of transmitting HIV.

  • Viral load – the higher someone’s viral load, the more likely that person is to transmit HIV (and people living with HIV who are treated and have undetectable virus will not transmit HIV).
  • Sexually transmitted diseases – if you have another STD, you may be more likely to get or transmit HIV
  • Alcohol and drug use – when you’re drunk or high, you’re more likely to engage in risky sexual behaviors like having sex without protection (such as condoms or medicine to prevent or treat HIV).


There are many options available to prevent HIV. You can reduce your risk of getting or spreading HIV through the following tools.

  • Protect yourself during sex
    • Choose sexual activities with little to no risk, like oral sex.
    • Use condoms the right way every time you have sex.
    • Take PrEP (pre-exposure prophylaxis)
    • Decide not to have sex
    • Get tested and treated for other STDs
    • If your partner has HIV, encourage your partner to get and stay in treatment
  • Protect yourself if you use drugs
    • Never share needles, syringes, or other drug injections equipment
    • Take PrEP (pre-exposure prophylaxis)
    • Don’t have sex when you’re high on drugs
    • Decide not to inject drugs
  • PEP (post-exposure prophylaxis)
    • PEP (post-exposure prophylaxis) means taking medicine to prevent HIV after a possible exposure. PEP should be used only in emergency situations and must be started within 72 hours after a recent possible exposure to HIV.
  • PrEP (pre-exposure prophylaxis)
    • PrEP (pre-exposure prophylaxis) can reduce your chance of getting HIV from sex or injection drug use. When taken as prescribed, PrEP is highly effective for preventing HIV.

Next Steps

If you have HIV, or are at risk of HIV, it’s important to make choices to keep you healthy. Get tested to know your status. Find a health care team to manage your care and treatment. Your primary HIV provider will lead your health care team.

It will be important to:

  • Find an HIV medical provider
  • Take your medications as prescribed
  • Keep your medical appointments
  • Talk honestly with your health care provider

Staying in medical care and taking medication regularly can keep you healthy and protect others.

Important Resources