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Home > Education & Prevention > Frequently Asked Questions

Frequently Asked Questions

Click on the links below to view the answers to the following questions:

Can I tell by symptoms if I am HIV positive or not?

You cannot tell your HIV status by symptoms. Symptoms for HIV may not occur for years after you become infected, so many people who are infected do not know it. Initial symptoms of HIV are very common and may be associated with a variety of illnesses.

If you are feeling sick or having symptoms you should see your doctor. However, if you think you might have been at risk of getting HIV, you must get an HIV test to know if you did become infected or not.

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Are HIV and AIDS the same thing?

No. HIV and AIDS are not interchangeable terms, although the media often uses them that way. HIV is a tiny microscopic organism. AIDS is a specific collection of illnesses or diseases caused by having the HIV virus in your body.

A person can have HIV for many years without showing any symptoms of AIDS. Some people have been infected with HIV for 15 years or more without having symptoms. They are considered to be HIV positive. When an HIV positive person develops minor symptoms it may be a sign that the disease is progressing. A doctor would determine, based on the symptoms and certain blood test if the person has AIDS or not.

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Which body fluids do not transmit HIV and which ones do?

Saliva, Sweat, Tears, and Urine do not transmit HIV -- But, semen, blood, and vaginal fluids do. Any activity that includes no direct contact with your partner's semen, blood or vaginal fluids is safe. Activities that do involve direct contact with semen, blood, or vaginal fluids are risky. Any precautions that reduce the chance of direct contact with those fluids will make sex safer.

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Isn't abstinence the only real "safe" sex?

Yes. That is why we have the term "Safer" Sex. Safer sex is any means of enjoying sex to the fullest without transmitting, or acquiring, any sexually related infections. Safer sex does not mean eliminating sexual passion and intimacy from your life. It just means that you have to be aware of the risk and use the tools available to reduce the risk to a level that both you and your partner feel comfortable with.

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Can I get HIV by just masturbating with my partner?

Masturbation is one of the safest sexual activities you can engage in. It is safe for semen or vaginal fluids to contact healthy, unbroken skin in mutual masturbation. Healthy skin (no open cuts or fresh sores) provides very good protection against HIV.

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Is HIV spread by kissing?

There is no evidence that saliva transmits HIV. Deep kissing may transmit other sexually transmitted disease but not HIV. Kissing or licking your partner's body will not spread HIV. The only time kissing could be a possible mode of transmission for HIV would be if there was a significant presence of blood in the mouth of the infected person.

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Can it be risky to perform oral sex on a woman?

The risk of getting HIV by performing oral sex on a woman is lower than the risk of getting it through vaginal and anal sex. Using a latex square, dental dam, condom cut open or plastic wrap may reduce the risk further. During menstruation the risk may increase because of the presence of blood.

The risk of a woman acquiring HIV by receiving oral sex is extremely low. Some other diseases, such as gonorrhea and herpes may be transmitted during oral sex on a woman.

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Would performing oral sex on a man be as risky as anal sex, vaginal sex, or sharing injection drugs?

No. Performing oral sex on a man is lower risk than vaginal and anal sex or sharing injection drugs. However, low risk does not mean no risk. In a man with HIV, both semen and pre-ejaculatory fluid (pre-cum) which contain the virus could be introduced into the mouth, so merely stopping before he ejaculates may not eliminate the risk.

Using a condom for oral sex on a man reduces the risk of getting HIV. The risk of a man getting HIV by receiving oral sex is very low. Some other diseases, such as gonorrhea and herpes may be transmitted by giving oral sex to a man.

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Are all condoms the same?

No. There are many options available in brands, styles, colors, flavors, and lubrication. Latex condoms are most effective at preventing HIV transmission, when used properly. Natural skin or animal membrane condoms do not prevent HIV transmission.

Be aware that many condoms, french ticklers, glow in the dark, etc. are sold as novelty items and are not intended to prevent infection of any disease. Condoms do not provide 100 percent protection against HIV, but they are highly effective if they are used properly each time you have sex.

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How long after a possible exposure should I wait to be tested to know for sure that I am not HIV infected?

The tests used to determine HIV infection look for antibodies produced by the body to fight HIV. According to the CDC, most people will develop detectable antibodies within 3 months after infection. In rare cases, it can take up to six months. A test at least 3 months after the last possible exposure should be highly accurate. However, the CDC recommends testing again at 6 months, just to be sure.

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How do you use a condom?

Always leave a space at the tip to receive the semen. Put a drop of water-based lubricant inside the tip of the condom to increase pleasure. Do not use oil-based lubricants as they can cause the latex to break. Put the condom on the erect penis before any contact with the other person.

If the penis is uncircumcised (uncut), pull back the foreskin before rolling the condom down. Unroll the condom slowly all the way down the shaft of the penis, making sure to remove any air bubbles and inspect for holes. Have a spare condom handy, just in case. Use only water-based lubricants. Also apply water-based lubricant to the vagina or anus in addition to the lubrication applied to the outside of the condom to further reduce the chance of breakage.

After ejaculation, carefully pull the penis out while it is still erect, hold onto the base of the condom to prevent slipping. Be careful not to spill the semen. Dispose of the used condom. Never re-use condoms!

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Is the blood supply safe?

The United States blood supply is among the safest in the world. In 1985, technology made it possible to test donated blood for HIV. Virtually all people infected with HIV through blood transfusion or blood products received them before 1985. Potential blood donors must undergo strict screening test prior to being accepted as donors.

Anyone that is determined to be at high risk for HIV is rejected. Blood and blood products are carefully tested and are safely disposed of if they prove to contain the HIV virus. At the present time, the risk of HIV transmission through receiving a blood transfusion or blood products in the United States is very rare and continues to become more infrequent even in areas with high prevalence of HIV.

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