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WARNING: The following page contains sexual content and may not be suitable for all ages.

Sexually Transmitted Diseases (STD)

Frequently Asked Questions About HIV



What is HIV?


HIV is the Human Immunodeficiency Virus. It is a virus that can cause AIDS (acquired immune deficiency syndrome). A member of a group of viruses called retroviruses, HIV infects human cells and uses the energy and nutrients provided by those cells to grow and reproduce. HIV lives in the blood, semen, vaginal secretions and breast milk or any bodily fluid that contains blood cells. HIV typically targets the T cells of the immune system. However, it can also attack cells of the brain, nervous system, digestive system, lymphatic system, and other parts of the body.

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How is HIV transmitted?


HIV can be transmitted when an HIV infected person has any type of sexual intercourse with another person. This includes vaginal or anal intercourse, and oral sex on a man or woman without a condom or other barrier. Intercourse while a woman is having her period, or during outbreaks of genital sores or lesions (caused by herpes and other sexually transmitted diseases) can increase the risk of HIV transmission. Transmission can also occur from sharing needles (tattoo and IV drug use), accidental needle sticks, infected blood products prior to 1985, pregnancy, childbirth or breastfeeding, and transplanted organs from donors. Routine screening of organs and blood products began in 1985.

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How can HIV be prevented?


The only way to ensure that you are 100 percent safe from HIV transmission is to abstain from sex. Outside of abstaining from sex, you can decrease your risk for HIV transmission by using a new condom each time you have sexual intercourse, to include oral sex. For oral sex on a woman, the use of a dental dam is recommended in order to decrease the risk of HIV transmission.


There is more than one type of barrier available for oral, anal and vaginal sex, the first being the male condom. The male condom should be used according to the manufacturer's instructions with a water-based lubricant for anal and vaginal sex. Also available are flavored male condoms that can effectively be used for oral sex on a male. These are not recommended for vaginal penetration, as they can cause yeast infections given that they are often coated in sugar. The second most common type of protection is the female condom. This should also be used according to the manufacturer's instructions with lubricant for vaginal sex. A couple should not use a male condom and a female condom at the same time as this will cause one or both of them to rip or tear. Lastly, dental dams are recommended for oral sex on a woman and also come in assorted flavors.

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Who is at risk for HIV?


You are at risk for HIV if you have unprotected vaginal, anal or oral intercourse or share needles with a partner who is positive for HIV. You cannot tell whether a person is positive for HIV by looking at them. The only way to know for sure that you are not positive for HIV is to get tested at your doctor's office, local health department, or other HIV testing facility. According to the CDC, certain populations are at an increasingly greater risk for HIV transmission:



CDC now recommends that everybody should be tested at least once per year.  CDC also recommends that those people who are at high-risk of becoming infected with HIV should test more frequently.  You can talk with your doctor or an HIV counselor about how frequently you should be tested for HIV.


You might be at higher risk for getting HIV if:


  • you are having unprotected sex with a partner of unknown HIV status

  • you or your partner has had more than one partner in the last 12 months,

  • you are a man who has sex with men,

  • your partner is HIV positive,

  • you share needles during IV drug use,

  • you share needles or ink during tattooing,

  • you are a healthcare worker who works with blood or blood products,

  • you exchange sex for drugs or money,

  • you had a blood transfusion or organ transplant before 1985,

  • your partner has participated in any of the above behaviors.

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How do I know if I am infected?


The HIV-antibody test is the only way to tell if you are infected. You cannot tell by looking at someone if he or she carries HIV. Someone can look and feel perfectly healthy and still be infected. In fact, an estimated one out of every five people who are HIV positive do not know it.

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If I think I have been exposed to HIV, how soon can I get tested?


HIV tests look for your body’s response to an HIV infection (called ‘antibodies’).  Each persons’ body is different and some people may develop a response to an infection faster than others.  While most people develop an antibody response to HIV within the first 3-6 weeks after being infected, some people may take as long as 3 months or longer. To find out when you should be tested, discuss it with an HIV counselor at the HIV test site or with your personal physician. During the time between exposure and the test, it is important to avoid any behavior that might result in exposure to blood, semen, or vaginal secretions. If your exposure happened in the last 3 days (72 hours) please contact your doctor immediately or go to your nearest urgent care center for evaluation. You may be eligible for Post-Exposure Prophylaxis, medication that can prevention an HIV infection from happening in your body.

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What if I'm Positive?


Having HIV does not necessarily mean you are going to get sick or die soon. HIV works slowly in the body. Most people with HIV infection are healthy and fairly free from symptoms for many years. If you test positive for HIV, immediate medical treatment and a healthy lifestyle can help you stay well. There are now many drugs that treat HIV infection and AIDS-related illnesses. Prompt medical care may help delay the onset of AIDS and prevent some life-threatening conditions.


If you receive a rapid HIV test (OraQuick, UniGold or ClearView), your blood will be drawn using venipuncture and sent to a lab for a confirmatory test. It usually takes two weeks to receive the results for the confirmatory test.


While you are waiting for the results from the confirmatory test, you will meet with staff members from our Partner Services Program who will begin to assist you with connecting you with services, notifying your partners, , helping your partners gain early access to individualized counseling, HIV testing, medical evaluation, treatment, and other prevention services.


This also provides clients and their partners who test positive a chance to talk with other people about HIV, learn more about this chronic illness, and develop a plan to address his or her feelings, find out about local resources, and learn that people living with HIV are not alone.

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What if I'm Negative?


If your test is negative, you were either not infected with HIV, or you have been infected with HIV, but your body has not yet produced enough HIV Antibodies for the test to detect them in your blood.


If you had an unprotected sexual encounter or shared needles with anybody within the three months prior to your test, you can talk to your doctor or HIV Counselor about when you should be re-tested. During the time you are waiting to be retested, it is recommended that you abstain from sex or use a new barrier/condom with each sexual act during this time. It is also recommended that you refrain from sharing needles during drug use.


If your last unprotected sexual encounter or needle-sharing encounter was more than three months before your test and your test is negative, you now have the ability to remain negative by obtaining education on how to participate in safer sex practices. Visit The Body to learn about safer sex practices.


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If I test HIV negative, does that mean that my partner is HIV negative also?


No. Your HIV test result reveals only your current HIV status. Your negative test result does not tell you whether your partner has HIV. The only way to know your partner’s HIV status is for that person to get tested and share their results with you.


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What if I was exposed to HIV within the last 72 hours?


If you feel that you might have been exposed to HIV within the last 72 hours, you might be able to take medication to prevent becoming HIV+. Medication can only be prescribed by a doctor so if you cannot get to your doctor immediately, please go to your nearest Urgent Care center. Not everybody will need medication, your doctor will talk with you about your exposure and decide if medication is necessary.


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How do I prove to my partner that I am HIV negative?


You and your partner have several options when it comes to disclosing HIV status with each other. You can share a copy of your tests result with your partner if you choose. You will need to bring a photo ID with you at the time of your test so that you can get your results in writing. You may also choose to bring your partner with you for a joint counseling session with one of our HIV counselors after your testing session is over and you receive your results. Your counselor is not allowed to disclose your results to your partner but is available to answer questions you or your partner might have. If your partner chooses to get tested also, he or she may do so in a separate private session. We will never test two people together nor will we test somebody with a friend or family in the room. This is so that you have complete privacy and confidentiality.


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If somebody did not tell me that they have HIV can they be arrested?


This website does not provide legal advice therefore this question is best answered by an attorney who is licensed to practice in Arizona.  If you do not have an attorney, you can contact the Maricopa County Bar Lawyer Referral Service at 602-257-4434 for a free 30-minute telephone consultation. 


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Is there a website or database where I can look up my partner to see if they are HIV+?


No. Although HIV+ individuals are reported to the local and State Health Department for public health purposes, all information is kept in the strictest confidentiality and will not be released to anybody without the express written consent of the HIV+ person. The only way to know your partner’s status is to ask them.


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I did not get tested at the Health Department, why are you trying to contact me?


The Maricopa County Department of Public Health may be trying to contact you for any number of reasons. The bottom line is that, if they are trying to reach you, please speak to them. Public Health is tasked with protecting the health of the public by identifying and treating people who have an infectious disease, by notifying and testing people who have been exposed to an infectious disease and by preventing infectious diseases in the environment.  Public Health investigates 87 different infectious diseases. We also provide WIC services, routine childhood and adult immunizations, food inspections, food handlers cards, mosquito fogging and many, many other services. No matter what your situation is, Public Health is here to help.


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I am HIV+ but don’t have insurance.  Is there any help for me?


Absolutely! The Ryan White Program is a federally funded insurance program specifically for HIV+ people who do not have any other source of income.  Ryan White covers everything from medical care and medication to transportation and case management services. If you are currently un-insured and are HIV+ you can contact our office at 602-506-2934 for assistance. 


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I am HIV+ but don’t want to tell my partner. What can I do?


You are not legally required to disclose your HIV status however your partners are at risk and should be tested. Public Health offers the opportunity to notify your partners for you without giving up your information. That’s the best part, your status remains confidential and your partners can get tested. Just call us at 602-506-2934, tell us about your partner and we’ll do the rest.


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If I’m HIV+ and my partner is too, why do we still need to use condoms?


Because HIV mutates so quickly, each person’s HIV infection is unique to them, especially if one or both of you are taking medication. The strain of HIV in your body is under control by the medication you’re taking. If you also get your partner’s HIV strain, you get what’s called a “superinfection”; you now have two different strains of HIV in your body: one strain that your medication can control and one that your medication cannot control. 


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People who have HIV look sick, so can’t you tell if somebody has it just by looking at them?


Most people who have HIV look and feel perfectly healthy and don’t show symptoms for many years. A healthy lifestyle, good medical care and adherence to medication are all factors that allow people with HIV to live long, healthy and productive lives. In fact, one in five people with HIV don’t even know they have it. Most people who get HIV get it from somebody that looks healthy. The only way to know a person’s HIV status is to ask them. The best way to protect yourself from getting HIV is to use condoms with each and every partner.


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I was just told that I have HIV but I feel healthy.  Why do I need to see a doctor now, can’t I wait?


It’s never a good idea to wait until you feel sick before seeing a doctor. The sooner you see a doctor who specializes in HIV care, the better off you are. You and your doctor will be able to work together to keep your HIV infection under control and keep your body healthy for a long time. 


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I know I’m not at risk for HIV so I don’t need to get tested, right?


Everybody should get tested at least once a year regardless of whether or not they think they are at risk. Many people with HIV don’t know that they have it because they don’t think they need to be tested. Your doctor can test you at your next visit or you can get tested at any of the local HIV service agencies in town including your local health department. The only way to know your HIV status is to get tested. 


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I don’t want to get tested because my insurance will kick me off.


The CDC recommends that everybody get tested at least once a year for HIV.  Most insurance programs cover HIV testing as part of your routine medical exam with your doctor. Even though your insurance company will know you got tested, they will not get the results of your test. However, if you choose not to get tested by your doctor, you can get tested by an HIV service organization that will not bill your insurance. If your test result is positive and you are worried about losing your insurance coverage our Partner Services staff will discuss your options.


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