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Today is World AIDS Day, an observance dedicated to showing solidarity with those living with and affected by HIV around the world and remembering those who have lost their lives to AIDS.

As part of our ongoing “Ask the Expert” series, we are turning to our HIV Prevention Fellows to answer some common questions about HIV and AIDS. Our fellows work in the community to provide accurate information about the importance of getting tested for HIV, methods of HIV prevention, including PEP and PrEP medication, and overall sexual health.

​I was told that HIV and AIDS are the same thing. Is there a difference between the two?

Yes, there is a difference between HIV and AIDS. 

HIV (Human immunodeficiency Virus) is a virus that attacks an individual’s immune system. HIV is transmitted through bodily fluids such as blood, breast milk, semen, vaginal fluids, and rectal fluids. It is NOT spread through water, air, pets, or toilet seats.

AIDS (Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome) develops once HIV has severely damaged the body’s immune system. People may not know they are living with HIV until it becomes AIDS, so it’s crucial that people know their HIV status. If someone is living with HIV, taking their medicine as prescribed can reduce or stop the progression of the virus to AIDS.

If I test positive for HIV, does that mean I’m going to die?

No. Thanks to amazing advances in medicine, such as antiretroviral therapy (ART)—which helps stop the progression of HIV to AIDS—HIV is no longer considered a “death sentence.”

Currently, there is no cure for HIV, so once people get it, they have it for life. However, if people living with HIV take their medication as prescribed, they can lead healthy lives. 

What can I do to protect myself from contracting HIV?

You can protect yourself by practicing safe sex, wearing condoms the right way every time, not sharing needles, and getting tested regularly.  Knowing your status gives you the information you need to make healthy decisions and prevent getting or transmitting HIV.

You can also talk to a Planned Parenthood of Illinois (PPIL)  health provider about PrEP (Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis), a daily oral pill that reduces the risk of HIV infection. PrEP is for anyone who is HIV-negative and at risk of contracting HIV from sexual activities or intravenous drug use. PrEP is especially recommended for those with a partner(s) with unknown STI status, an HIV-positive status, and individuals who do not regularly use condoms during sexual activities. 

If you think you may have been exposed to HIV, you should consult a medical professional as soon as possible. PEP (Post-Exposure Prophylaxis) is a medication that can be taken within 72 hours of exposure to prevent HIV. PEP should only be used in emergencies.

PPIL offers testing at all of our health centers. PPIL can also help patients find organizations that help cover the cost of HIV medication. Learn more about our HIV/AIDS services by visiting ppil.org. If you’re interested in getting tested, call (800) 230-7526 to make an appointment today.

Ending the HIV Epidemic in Illinois by 2030

In addition to providing HIV testing and treatment, PPIL participates in the Illinois HIV Integrated Planning Council through the Illinois Department of Public Health, in support of the Getting to Zero initiative, which aims to end the HIV epidemic in Illinois by 2030. We also support local health departments and agencies like U of I’s Positive Health Solutions, Friends of Central Illinois, and Greater Community AIDS Project of East-Central Illinois.

AIDS Memorial Quilt

This year’s World AIDS Day theme is “Global solidarity, shared responsibility,” which comes at a pivotal time as the world focuses on the COVID-19 pandemic and the effect it’s had on our lives.

The pandemic has also changed the way people remember loved ones lost to AIDS. Since 1987, those who died of AIDS have been honored through the AIDS Memorial Quilt. This year, because of the pandemic, seeing the quilt in person is not possible. The National AIDS Memorial has worked with Quilt partners to create digital images of the hand-sewn personalized panels, available for viewing online.

Click here to see Illinois partners and contributions to the 2020 AIDS Memorial Quilt.

Tags: AIDS, HIV testing, HIV/AIDS, World AIDS Day, HIV