Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) is a virus. You may hear that someone is "HIV infected", "has HIV infection", or "has HIV disease." These are all terms that mean the person has HIV in his or her body and can pass the virus to other people.
HIV attacks the body's immune system. The immune system protects the body from infections and disease, but has no clear way to protect it from HIV. Over time, most people infected with HIV become less able to fight off the germs that we are all exposed to every day. Many of these germs do not usually make a healthy person sick, but they can cause life-threatening infections and cancers in a person whose immune system has been weakened by HIV.
People infected with HIV may have no symptoms for 10 or more years. They may not know they are infected. An HIV test is the only way to find out if you have HIV. See HIV Testing for information and resources on HIV testing in New York State.
HIV spreads when infected blood, semen, vaginal fluids, or breast milk gets into the bloodstream of another person through:
- direct entry into a blood vessel;
- mucous linings, such as the vagina, rectum, penis, mouth, eyes, or nose, or
- a break in the skin.
HIV is not spread through saliva (spit).
HIV is spread through:
- Vaginal, anal, or oral sex without using a condom.
- Sharing needles, syringes, or works to inject drugs, vitamins, hormones, steroids, or medicines.
- Women with HIV infection can pass HIV to their babies during pregnancy, delivery, and breastfeeding.
- People who are exposed to blood and/or body fluids at work, like health care workers, may be exposed to HIV through needle-sticks or other on-the-job exposures.
It may also be possible to pass HIV through sharing needles for piercing or tattooing.
A person infected with HIV can pass the virus to others during these activities. This is true even if the person:
- has no symptoms of HIV
- has not been diagnosed with AIDS
- is taking HIV medications
- has an "undetectable" viral load
HIV is not spread by casual contact like sneezing, coughing, eating or drinking from common utensils, shaking hands, hugging, or use of restrooms and drinking fountains.
Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS) is a late stage of HIV disease. Medications can help people living with HIV or AIDS live longer, healthier lives. Some people have lived for more than 20 years and have taken medicines for more than 10 years. Not everyone's disease progresses or responds to medications in the same way. AIDS has serious health consequences, it can interfere with quality of life and there is no cure.
Note: This site contains HIV prevention messages that may not be appropriate for all audiences. Since HIV infection is spread primarily through sexual practices or by sharing needles, prevention messages on this site may address these topics.