India HIV/AIDS Resource Centre
National AIDS Control Organisation
Ministry of Health & Family Welfare, Government of India

What is HIV?


HIV stands for Human Immuno-deficiency Virus. HIV after entering the human body gradually destroys the immune system, i.e. the ability to fight infections/diseases.


What is AIDS?


AIDS stands for Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome. It is the later stage of infection with HIV. It is a condition in which a group of symptoms appear as the immune system becomes very weak. It can take around 8-10 years from the time of HIV infection to the stage of AIDS. HIV infected people can lead symptom–free and productive lives for years.


Do all people with HIV have AIDS?


No. Being diagnosed with HIV does not mean a person will also be diagnosed with AIDS. Healthcare professionals diagnose AIDS only when people with HIV infection begin to get severe opportunistic infections (OIs), or their CD4cell counts fall below a certain level.


Can I get AIDS from sharing a cup or shaking hands with someone who has HIV or AIDS?


HIV is found only in body fluids, so you cannot get HIV by shaking someone’s hand or giving them a hug (or by using the same toilet or towel). While HIV is found in saliva, sharing cups or utensils has never been shown to transmit HIV.


Can HIV be transmitted through an insect bite?

No, Insects cannot transmit HIV. Research has shown that HIV does not replicate or survive well in insects. In addition, blood-eating insects digest their food and do not inject blood from the last person they bite into the next person.


How do people get infected with HIV?


HIV can be transmitted through: Unprotected sex with an HIV infected person; Transfusion of HIV infected blood or blood products; Sharing of needles contaminated with HIV infected blood; and from HIV infected mother to her baby – during pregnancy, during birth or after delivery through breast milk.

Apart from the above modes of transmission, HIV doesn’t spread by any other way, HIV doesn’t spread through ordinary social contact; for example by shaking hands, traveling in the same bus, eating from same utensils, by hugging or social kissing etc.


Where did HIV come from?

Scientists have different theories about the origin of HIV, but none have been proven.

We do know that the virus has existed in the United States since at least the mid- to late 1970s. From 1979-1981 rare types of pneumonia, cancer, and other illnesses were being reported by doctors in Los Angeles and New York among a number of gay male patients. These were conditions not usually found in people with healthy immune systems.

In 1982 public health officials began to use the term "acquired immunodeficiency syndrome," or AIDS, to describe the occurrences of opportunistic infections, Kaposi's sarcoma, and Pneumocystis carinii pneumonia in previously healthy men. Formal tracking (surveillance) of AIDS cases began that year in the United States.

The cause of AIDS is a virus that scientists isolated in 1983. The virus was at first named HTLV-III/LAV (human T-cell lymphotropic virus-type III/lymphadenopathy- associated virus) by an international scientific committee. This name was later changed to HIV (Human Immunodeficiency Virus).


Why the HIV/ AIDS epidemic is considered so serious?

HIV generally affects people at the most productive age, leading to premature death thereby severely affecting the socio-economic structure of whole families, communities and countries.

Secondly, HIV infection goes unnoticed in the initial years because it is not symptomatic in the initial phase. Thus, early detection, treatment and management get tough. This is the reason why HIV / AIDS is often called a silent killer.

A considerable amount of stigma and discrimination is associated with AIDS, which creates hindrance in prevention as well as care and support efforts.

And, because HIV spreads mostly through sexual contact which being very personal and private affair, it becomes difficult to address it.


Can I get infected with HIV from mosquitoes?

No. The results of experiments and observations of insect biting behavior indicate that when an insect bites a person, it does not inject its own or a previously bitten person's or animal's blood into the next person bitten. Rather, it injects saliva, which acts as a lubricant so the insect can feed efficiently. Diseases such as yellow fever and malaria are transmitted through the saliva of specific species of mosquitoes. However, HIV lives for only a short time inside an insect and, unlike organisms that are transmitted via insect bites; HIV does not reproduce (and does not survive) in insects. Thus, even if the virus enters a mosquito or another insect, the insect does not become infected and cannot transmit HIV to the next human it bites.

There also is no reason to fear that a mosquito or other insect could transmit HIV from one person to another through HIV-infected blood left on its mouthparts. Several reasons help explain why this is so. First, infected people do not have constantly high levels of HIV in their blood streams. Second, insect mouthparts retain only very small amounts of blood on their surfaces. Finally, scientists who study insects have determined that biting insects normally do not travel from one person to the next immediately after ingesting blood. Rather, they fly to a resting place to digest the blood meal.

From the start of the HIV epidemic, there were concerns about HIV transmission of the virus by biting and bloodsucking insects, such as mosquitoes. However, studies conducted by the Center for Disease Control (CDC), Washington DC, and elsewhere also have shown no evidence of HIV transmission through mosquitoes or any other insects -- even in areas where there are many cases of AIDS and large populations of mosquitoes. No records of HIV infection outbreaks have been recorded by CDC despite efforts to detect them, support the conclusion that HIV is not transmitted by insects.


Can I get HIV from getting a tattoo or through body piercing?

A risk of HIV transmission does exist if instruments contaminated with blood are either not sterilized or disinfected or are used inappropriately between clients. CDC recommends that instruments that are intended to penetrate the skin be used once, then disposed of or thoroughly cleaned and sterilized.

Personal service workers who do tattooing or body piercing should be educated about how HIV is transmitted and take precautions to prevent transmission of HIV and other blood-borne infections in their settings. If you are considering getting a tattoo or having your body pierced, ask staff at the establishment what procedures they use to prevent the spread of HIV and other blood-borne infections, such as hepatitis B virus. You also may call the local health department to find out what sterilization procedures are in place in the local area for these types of establishments.


Why is injecting drug use a risk for HIV?

At the start of every intravenous injection, blood from the vein is sucked in for confirmation and thus blood is introduced into needles and syringes. HIV is present in large quantity in the blood of a person infected with the virus. The reuse of a HIV infected blood -contaminated needle or syringe by another drug injector (sometimes called "direct syringe sharing") has some quantity of the HIV infected blood present in the hollow of the needle and the base of the syringe cylinder. Hence the reuse of such needles and syringes carry high risk of HIV transmission when pushed into the blood stream of the next user.

In addition, using some unsterilised medical equipment can are also at risk for spreading HIV.

"Street sellers" of syringes may repackage used unsterilised syringes and sell them as sterile syringes. For this reason, people who continue to inject drugs should obtain syringes from reliable sources of sterile syringes, such as pharmacies. It is important to know that sharing a needle or syringe for any use, including skin-piercing and injecting steroids, can put one at risk for HIV and other blood-borne infections.


Is there a connection between HIV and other sexually transmitted infection?

Yes. Having a sexually transmitted infection (STI) can increase a person's risk of becoming infected with HIV, whether the STI causes open sores or breaks in the skin (e.g., syphilis, herpes, chancroid) or does not cause breaks in the skin (e.g., chlamydia, gonorrhea).

If the Sexually Transmitted infection causes irritation of the skin, breaks or sores may make it easier for HIV to enter the body during sexual contact. Even when the STI causes no breaks or open sores, the infection can stimulate an immune response in the genital area that can make HIV transmission more likely.

In addition, if an HIV-infected person also is infected with another STI, that person is three to five times more likely than other HIV-infected persons to transmit HIV through sexual contact.


How effective are latex condoms in preventing HIV?

Studies have shown that latex condoms are highly effective in preventing HIV transmission when used correct and consistently. These studies looked at uninfected people considered to be at very high risk of infection because they were involved in sexual relationships with HIV-infected people. The studies found that even with repeated sexual contact, 98-100 percent of those people who used latex condoms correctly and consistently did not become HIV infected.


Can I get HIV from anal sex?


Yes, it is possible for either sex partner to become infected with HIV during anal sex. HIV can be found in the blood, semen, pre-seminal fluid, or vaginal fluid of a person infected with HIV virus. In general, the person receiving the semen is at greater risk of getting HIV because the lining of the rectum is thin and may allow the virus to enter the body during anal sex. However, a person who inserts his penis into an infected partner also is at risk because HIV can enter through the urethra (the opening at the tip of the penis) or through small cuts, abrasions, or open sores on the penis.

Having unprotected (without a condom) anal sex is considered to be a very risky behavior. If people choose to have anal sex, they should use a latex condom. Most of the time, condoms work well. However, condoms are more likely to break during anal sex than during vaginal sex. Thus, even with a condom, anal sex can be risky. A person should use a water-based lubricant in addition to the condom to reduce the chances of the condom breaking.


Can I get HIV from open-mouth kissing?

Open-mouth kissing is considered a very low-risk activity for the transmission of HIV. However, prolonged open-mouth kissing could damage the mouth or lips and allow HIV to pass from an infected person to a partner and then enter the body through cuts or sores in the mouth. Because of this possible risk, the CDC recommends against open-mouth kissing with an infected partner.


Can I get HIV from kissing on the cheek?

HIV is not casually transmitted, so kissing on the cheek is very safe. Even if the other person has the virus, your unbroken skin is a good barrier. No one has become infected from such ordinary social contact as dry kisses, hugs, and handshakes.


How can I avoid being infected through sex?


By abstaining from sex; or

By having a mutually faithful monogamous sexual relationship with an uninfected partner; or

By practicing safe sex (Safe sex involves the correct use of a condom during each sexual encounter and also includes non-penetrative sex.)


I had sex with someone I think could be at risk for HIV, and the condom broke? What should I do?

If it’s been less than 72 hours since the condom broke, you may be able to take medication that could keep you from getting infected with HIV, even if your partner is HIV-positive. Call your doctor or your local health department immediately and ask about post-exposure prophylaxis, or PEP. If it’s been longer than 72 hours, PEP will not protect you from HIV, and you will need to explore HIV testing options. In most cases, you will have to wait at least 6 weeks after a possible exposure before an HIV test can provide accurate results.


Can we assume responsibility in preventing HIV infection?

Both men and women share the responsibility for avoiding behaviour that might lead to HIV infection. Equally, they also share the right to refuse sex and assume responsibility for ensuring safe sex. In many societies, however, men have much more control than women to over when, with whom and how they have sex. In such cases, men need to assume greater responsibility for their actions.


Why is early and complete treatment of STI important?

STI transmission is also caused by unprotected sexual act in the general population. Early initiation of the treatment reduces the viral load of the infection causes agent and the complete treatment of STI cures most of the STIs. After the complete treatment and cure, the risk of spread of STIs to sexual partners is reducedand thus exposure to contacting HIV is also reduced. Besides, early treatment of STI also prevents infertility and ectopic pregnancies.


How does a mother transmit HIV to her unborn child?

An HIV-infected mother can infect the child in her womb through her blood. The baby is more at risk if the mother has been recently infected or is in an advanced stage of AIDS.

Transmission can also occur at the time of birth when the baby is passing through the mother’s genital tract.

Transmission can also occur through breast milk.


Can HIV be transmitted through breast-feeding and what can be done?

Yes. The virus has been found in the breast milk in low concentrations and studies have shown that, 10 to 15% children born to HIV-infected mothers can get HIV infection through breast milk. Breast milk, however, has many substances in it that protect an infant’s health. The benefits of breast-feeding for both mother and child are well recognized. The issue of an infant becoming infected with HIV through breast-feeding must be weighed against the benefits of breast feeding in individual cases.


Can use of unsterilised injections transmit HIV infection?

Yes, if the injecting equipment is contaminated with blood containing HIV. Avoid injections unless absolutely necessary. If you must have an injection, make sure the needle and syringe come straight from a sterile package or have been sterilized properly; a needle and syringe that has been cleaned and then boiled for 20 minutes is ready for reuse. Finally, if you inject drugs, of whatever kind, never use anyone else’s injecting equipment.


Is there a treatment available for HIV/AIDS?

While there is no cure, effective Anti-Retroviral Treatment (ART) drugs are available which can prolong the life of an HIV positive person, thus enhance the quality of life as well. But once started, these ART drugs have to be taken lifelong. In addition, these drugs are expensive and have side effects. In addition, the treatment needs to be administered under supervision of doctors who are trained in HIV case management. Though prevention is the best thing however.


Why should young people be concerned about HIV/AIDS?

The reasons for the important role of young people depend upon several factors:

·         A major proportion of HIV infection occurs in young people

·         Young people are at a high risk of acquiring sexually transmitted infections, including HIV if they experiment with sex or drug as a part of their growing up.

·         Young people can communicate better with other young people than older people can. This means their role as peer educators and motivators cannot be taken by other people.

·         Young people have the enthusiasm, energy and idealism that can be harnessed for spreading the message of HIV/AIDS awareness and responsible sexual behaviour.

·         Young persons can spread the message not only to their peers and to younger children, but also to their families and the community.

·         Young persons can ideally serve as role models for younger children and their peers.


What is the window period?

The normal HIV blood tests detect the presence of antibodies in human body, which take about 6-12 weeks (upto 6 months in some cases) after infection to form in the body in detectable quantity. This period is called the window period. During this period the HIV status does not show in the test but the person can infect others.


Why is it important to tell people to fight AIDS & not people living with HIV/AIDS?


This is important because AIDS has produced an unprecedented negative reaction from people.


·         It has produced reaction of fear, hostility and prejudice.

·         Sometimes people with HIV/AIDS have been evicted from their lodgings and rejected by their family or friends.

·         Consequently people with AIDS are afraid to tell others about their condition for fear of victimization

·         Reaction such as these are mostly due to ignorance

·         Education on how AIDS is transmitted and how people can protect themselves is the most important means of reducing the spread of AIDS.

Moreover, the facts that HIV is not transmitted through casual and social contacts including sharing of clothes and utensils, eating together, sharing the toilets, playing together, touching, hugging, is reinforced and the fear and stigma associated with HIV can be dispelled.


What support can I give a person who is living with HIV/AIDS?

It is important that we help a person living with HIV/AIDS to remain strong in the body and mind, as this helps greatly to increase their life expectancy and the quality, by delaying the disease progression.

We can offer support by:

·         Joining in the fight against reducing HIV/AIDS related Stigma and discrimination.

·         Providing a balanced and nutritious diet

·         Ensuring that the person stays active and economically productive

·         Accepting the person along with the illness so that he or she maintains a positive self-image by feeling wanted and loved

·         Providing the necessary care and affection and support to the family

·         Helping neighbours, friends and relatives to understand the nature of the illness and the care and precautions required.


How can we win the war against HIV/AIDS?

It is important to realize that AIDS is the concern of each one of us as anyone of us can is at risk. By sharing and spreading correct facts and positive attitudes we can ensure the safest protective behaviour possible.

We can do this by:Sharing our knowledge and facts about AIDS with all the members of the family Realizing our responsibility to spread the knowledge about AIDS in our community, helping people understand the care and precautions required to avoid the spread of the disease, helping people realize that there is no risk attached to caring for a person with AIDS at home provided that sensible household hygiene measures are taken and by creating an enabling environment for PLHIV at workplace.

As a person living with HIV, how do I find employment services? Are there job-training programs I might qualify for?


Yes, there are public, private, and not-for-profit job training programs available to you. Check first with your local HIV/AIDS service providers to learn if there are HIV-specific job training and employment services in your community. It’s a good idea to begin with employment services, and then seek job-training services, if you need and want them, when you have developed a plan with your vocational or employment services counsellor.

If you are receiving disability benefits, you are eligible for the Ticket to Work program. You are also presumed eligible for state vocational rehabilitation (VR) services, but you do not have to be receiving disability benefits to be determined eligible for state VR services.