HIV 101

The community of those living with or vulnerable to HIV is vast, diverse and strong. So too is the work being done to ensure each person has the treatment, support and resources they need.

Without treatment, HIV can make a person very sick and even cause death. With treatment, a person living with HIV can live a long and healthy life. Treatment also has another benefit: prevention. A person living with HIV who is on treatment and has an undetectable viral load cannot sexually transmit HIV. Undetectable = untransmittable, or U=U.

Learning the basics about HIV can keep you healthy and prevent transmission.

HIV can be transmitted by

Sexual contact

Sharing needles to inject drugs

Mother to baby during pregnancy, birth or breastfeeding

HIV is NOT transmitted by

Air or water

Saliva, sweat, tears or closed-mouth kissing

Insects or pets

Sharing toilets, food or drinks

Protect yourself from HIV

  • Get tested at least once or more often if you are at risk.
  • Use condoms the right way every time you have anal or vaginal sex.
  • Choose activities with little to no risk like oral sex.
  • Limit your number of sex partners.
  • Don’t inject drugs, or if you do, don’t share needles or works.
  • Ask your health care provider if PrEP (preexposure prophylaxis) is right for you.
  • If you think you’ve been exposed to HIV within the last three days, ask a health care provider about PEP (postexposure prophylaxis) right away. PEP can prevent HIV, but it must be started within 72 hours.
  • Get tested and treated for other STDs.

Keep yourself healthy and protect others if you are living with HIV

  •  Find HIV care. It can keep you healthy and greatly reduce your chance of transmitting HIV. Reaching an undetectable viral load means you cannot pass the virus along to anyone. Undetectable = Untransmittable, U=U. 
  • Take your medicines the right way every day.
  • Stay in HIV care.
  • Tell your sex or drug-using partners that you are living with HIV. 
  • Use condoms the right way every time you have sex, and talk to your partners about PrEP. 
  • Get tested and treated for other STDs
If you have recently been diagnosed with HIV or have been living with HIV for a while, you are not alone. AIDS United does not provide direct service or treatment, but we might be able to connect you with the local resources and support you need.

Basic terms and facts

A process for equipping the nation’s HIV prevention and treatment workforce through training, technical assistance and other resources to reduce HIV transmissions and improve health outcomes for people living with HIV.
A strategy designed to reduce the harm of different behaviors on the people engaging in them.
A viral infection that causes liver inflammation, sometimes leading to serious liver damage.
Human immunodeficiency virus, acquired immunodeficiency syndrome; HIV is a virus that attacks the body’s immune system and if left untreated, leads to AIDS.
The interconnected nature of social categorizations such as race, class and gender as they apply to a given individual or group, regarded as creating overlapping and interdependent systems of discrimination or disadvantage.
Recognizing the social and political dimensions of language and language access, while working to dismantle language barriers, equalize power dynamics and build strong communities.
The health outcomes of a group of individuals, including the distribution of such outcomes within the group.
Deterring the acquisition of a disease or stopping the progression of a disease that has already begun.

The practice of addressing race-based inequities and dismantling the systemic white supremacy built into our institutions and organizations.

Fair treatment of all people in a society, including respect for the rights of minorities and equitable distribution of resources among members of a community.
Two or more epidemics that, when impacting a particular community, lead to worse health outcomes.
An umbrella term for programs providing sterile syringes for drug use and disposing of used syringes. Additional services often include drug treatment, health care and social services.


JIV can be transmitted through six bodily fluids: blood, ejaculate, pre-seminal fluids, rectal fluids, vaginal fluids and breast milk. HIV prevention strategies focus on preventing these six fluids from being shared between a person living with HIV and a person without the virus. These practices include barrier methods, treatment as prevention, or TasP or U=U, preexposure prophylaxis, or PrEP, and post-exposure prophylaxis, or PEP, and more.
Condoms (both internal and external) are extremely effective when used properly and consistently. These prevent the exchange of bodily fluids for both partners.

PEP is a medicine taken after a potential exposure to HIV. It must be started within 72 hours of a possible exposure.

PrEP is a medicine taken by people vulnerable to HIV to prevent acquiring the virus from sex or injection drug use.

HIV can survive on previously used injection equipment like syringes. People who use drugs should use (and need access to) sterile injection equipment.

A person with an undetectable viral load cannot transmit HIV. The amount of virus, as determined by a laboratory test, in someone’s blood is called a viral load. When a person living with HIV takes their HIV medicines as prescribed, they can reach a point when their viral load is not detectable by those laboratory tests. While reaching an undetectable viral load has other health benefits for the person, treatment is also a form of prevention.


Also known as Obamacare, this 2010 law extended health insurance coverage to millions of people in the United States, protected those with preexisting conditions from being denied, and offered tax credits and cost-sharing reductions for lower-income families.
Implemented in 1983, this policy banned blood donations from men who had ever had sex with men. This ban was first amended in 2015, requiring a 12-month deferral period. The waiting period was again shortened in 2020 to three months.

Federal programs

Started by Congress in 1990 and expanded in 1992, it requires pharmaceutical manufacturers to make pharmaceutical pricing agreements (sometimes abbreviated as PPA) with the Department of Health and Human Services Secretary in order for their drugs to be covered by Medicaid and Medicare Part B. This provides discounts for covered drugs and lowers the price for individuals and safety-net providers.
A Department of Housing and Urban Affairs program and the only federal program dedicated to the housing needs of people living with HIV, making grants to local communities, states and nonprofit organizations.
A federal and state program that helps with medical costs for some people with limited income and resources. More than 40% of people living with HIV are covered by Medicaid.
The federal health insurance program for people who are 65 or older, certain younger people with disabilities, and people with End-Stage Renal Disease. Medicaid covers about 25% of people living with HIV.
Federal program run by the Health Resources and Services Administration that provides a comprehensive system of HIV primary medical care, essential support services, and medications for low-income people living with HIV who are uninsured and underserved.