In short, the answer is “yes.” You could have HIV in your blood for years and not have a clue. Your best friend could have it and you’d never know.
You could feel sick for a week, think it’s the flu, and not realize you have AIDS.
Seems crazy — everybody has heard about HIV and AIDS, right? But most people don’t know much more about the diseases, and there’s plenty of wrong ideas people have about them.
That’s why so many people pass HIV to others when they have sex or share needles. It’s not like they’re evil. They just don’t know.
Knowing starts with testing
There’s only one way to know your HIV status for sure: You gotta get tested.
Be Boss is all about taking control of your body and your health. A lot about your life may be out of your control — but this doesn’t have to be. One easy way to start taking control is by getting tested and avoiding risky stuff like unprotected sex and sharing needles.
And you gotta get schooled on HIV and how it’s different from AIDS.
Let’s find out.
The story of a rap pioneer lost to AIDS
Ever hear about Eazy-E? Back in the 1990s, they called him the Godfather of Gangsta Rap. Dude was a straight-up legend. Everybody who raps today owes a debt to Eazy-E and his N.W.A. crew.
So, Eazy-E went to his doctor in February of 1995 because he thought he had asthma. The tests came back and said he was actually living with AIDS.
A month later he was gone.
How could he not know he had a fatal disease?
Well, this all makes more sense if you understand how HIV and AIDS work.
HIV is not AIDS — HIV causes AIDS
HIV is the human immunodeficiency virus.
How does it work? Think about a first-person shooter game where your character gets weaker and weaker after taking too many hits from enemy players.
Your body has a shield against infections called the immune system. HIV attacks that shield and wears it down over years and years.
Some people get what feels like a really bad case of the flu a few weeks after they get infected with HIV. But some people have no symptoms at all.
HIV attacks so slowly that most people don’t even notice it. HIV strengthens while their body’s immunity shield weakens.
When your immune system is at full strength, it fights off all sorts of cancers, infections, and diseases. They’re weak because the immune system is strong. The opposite happens with HIV.
How do we get from HIV to AIDS?
When HIV damages the immune system, infections that used to be weak start to become strong.
Case in point: A rare cancer called Kaposi sarcoma (KS) almost never happens to healthy people. But it shows up in people who have a damaged immune system.
Scientists know how much damage HIV does over time. When the damage passes a certain point, they say HIV has turned into AIDS (acquired immunodeficiency syndrome).
KS causes red and purple splotches on the skin called lesions. In the early days of the AIDS epidemic, young men started going to their doctors and asking why they had these splotches on their skin.
The doctors knew that KS lesions usually happened to people with damaged immune systems. That’s how they knew something was attacking people’s immunities.
What they didn’t know was how to fight it.
Now, they do.
Testing, treatment, and living right
Today, we have powerful medications called anti-retroviral therapies (ART) that restore the body’s immunity shield. These meds make it almost impossible for HIV to spread in the body.
When HIV can’t spread, it can’t damage the immune system.
People who take their HIV meds properly can have normal, healthy lives. It’s not a death sentence anymore.
People living with HIV who take their ART properly get two benefits: a long, healthy life and reducing their chances that they’ll pass on HIV to somebody else.
Today, HIV is a problem around the world. We don’t have a cure yet, but we do know how to stop the epidemic (or at least slow it down):
- Testing: Get tested regularly so you know your HIV status.
- Safety: Avoid unsafe sex (always cover up with a condom) and shared needles so you don’t get HIV from somebody else, and talking to your doctor about PrEP, a daily medication that can reduce your risk of getting HIV.
- Treatment: If you test positive, start ART as soon as possible to reduce your risk of passing it on.
Do your part by getting tested today. It’s always free at Center Health Services. You don’t need an appointment and it’s totally confidential.
You’re the Boss of your body. If you have a question or concern please contact us for information about STI testing and treatment or other health services.
HIV walk-in testing hours:
Mon – Thurs 1 pm – 7 pm
HIV Services (216) 707-3448
STI walk-in medical testing:
Wed 11 am – 3:30 pm
Thurs 9 am – 11:30 am
PrEP or STI medical testing by appointment:
Circle Health Services
12201 Euclid Avenue
Cleveland, Ohio 44106