Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV)
HIV is a virus that is transmitted through bodily fluids (semen, vaginal fluid, blood, and breast milk) from person to person.
There is no cure for HIV, but there are:
- Ways to reduce your risk and prevent HIV infection
- Treatments to reduce symptoms
HIV Prevention & Free Condoms
The only way to know if you are living with HIV is to get tested. Free HIV testing is available at local health departments and certified HIV testing locations (PDF) throughout the state.
Since no proven vaccine for HIV is available, the only way to prevent infection by the virus is to avoid behaviors that put a person at risk of infection, such as sharing needles and having unprotected sex.
Because many people infected with HIV have no symptoms, there is no way of knowing with certainty that a sexual partner is not infected unless he or she has tested negative for the virus after six months of abstaining from any risky behavior. It is recommended that people either abstain from sex or protect themselves by using barriers such as latex condoms, dental dams and female condoms whenever having oral, anal or vaginal sex. Water-based rather than oil based lubricants should be used with latex condoms.
Condoms are available to MPC members at no cost. Just show your Maryland Physicians Care ID card at the pharmacy counter!
Understanding HIV and AIDS
- During sex, HIV can enter the body through the fragile tissue that lines the vagina, penis, anus and mouth.
- During drug use, tattooing or body piercing, the virus can enter the bloodstream through a shared needle.
- A mother who has HIV can infect her child during childbirth and through breastfeeding.
How HIV Infection Progresses:
After HIV enters the body, it attacks the immune system in stages. A person with HIV can look and feel perfectly healthy. But that person can give HIV to others as soon as he or she is infected with the virus.
HIV with No Symptoms: A person with HIV may have no symptoms for years. A positive blood test for HIV antibodies six weeks to six months after HIV enters the body may be the only sign of infection.
HIV with Symptoms: When the virus becomes active, symptoms begin to develop. These may include swollen lymph glands, fever, night sweats, diarrhea, skin rashes and sores. Symptoms may be mild at first, and then slowly get worse and last for longer and longer periods.
AIDS: AIDS is the last stage of HIV infection. Diseases and cancers begin to overcome the body. These diseases, not AIDS itself, cause death. HIV may also attack the brain and nervous system, causing seizures and loss of memory and body movement.
Note: Having unprotected sex or sharing needles puts you at risk for HIV. Talk to your health care provider about ways to protect yourself and loved ones from getting HIV.