Department of Recreation and Wellness

Sexual Health - What is HIV?

The Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) attacks specific white blood cells (CD4+ T cells) in the immune system, which depresses the immune system (hence, "immunodeficiency") so that it cannot function properly.

AIDS - Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome

AIDS is a symdrome, which means it is comprised of many factors, and is identified by a health care provider when a person living with HIV (who is "HIV positive") has at least one of the following:

  • A CD4+ T cell count of less than 200 cells/mm3 (normal is between 800 and 1200 cells/mm3)
  • One of many AIDS-defining conditions, as defined by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in 1993.
  • Most of these conditions are "opportunistic pathogens," which means that they typically do not affect those with healthy immune systems. They have the opportunity to become pathogens in those with compromised immune systems, like people living with HIV.
  • For a list of the AIDS-defining conditions, click here.

What is HIV Spread By?

HIV is spread by three main behaviors.

  1. Unprotected sexual activity (oral, vaginal and anal sex)
  2. Injection drug use (sharing needles or "works")
  3. Vertical transmission (from mother to child either during the actual birthing process or breastfeeding)

Four main body fluids can carry HIV.

  1. Blood
  2. Semen
  3. Vaginal Secretions
  4. Breast Milk

Also, synovial joint fluid and brain and spinal fluid (most people do not come into contact with these three fluids)

Window Period

The window period is the time it takes for a person to produce detectable antibodies to HIV after transmitting HIV.

  • This can take up to six months after transmitting HIV
  • Most people produce detectable antibodies within three months after infection

Some may take up to six months. The Wellness Connection uses a "6-month window period". This means if a person is within the 6-month window period, she/he could receive a negative HIV test result, but really be positive because their body has not produced detectable antibodies. Therefore, it is advisable that the person comes back to get re-tested outside of the 6-month window period.

Websites with More Information

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention HIV/AIDS Prevention page
American Social Health Association
Kaiser EDU (policy information)
Kaiser Family Foundation (policy information and daily HIV/AIDS reports)
The Body

Resource Hotlines

AIDS Info Health Specialist: (800) 448-0440
CDC Info:  (800) 232-4636
CDC National Prevention Information:  (800) 458-5231