What is HIV?
HIV stands for Human Immunodeficiency Virus. HIV causes your immune system—which protects your body from infection and disease—to fail. When HIV progresses, for instance if it’s not treated with medications, it can lead to a medical condition called Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS).
Being infected with HIV doesn’t mean you have AIDS. It’s possible to treat HIV with medication and keep it under control for many years so that it doesn’t progress to AIDS.
AIDS is a grouping of symptoms and specific illnesses—like infections and cancers—that people get if their immune system fails.
How do you get HIV?
HIV lives in the following body fluids: blood, semen, pre-cum, anal mucous, vaginal fluids and breast milk. A person can get HIV if they’re exposed to one of these fluids from a person that has HIV. For gay and bi men, this most often happens during sex—for instance, if a man who has HIV does not wear a condom or whose HIV is not virally suppressed due to treatment cums inside of his partner during anal sex. HIV can also be transmitted on injection drug use equipment.
People with HIV who have an undetectable HIV viral load are less likely to transmit HIV to someone else, but it’s still possible. Having other sexually-transmitted diseases (STIs) can increase the amount of HIV in semen and other body fluids, which means that someone with HIV and another STI may be more likely to transmit HIV to a sex partner. Genital ulcers, caused by STIs, can also contain HIV. You can get infected with HIV by coming into contact with a genital ulcer of someone who is living with HIV.
Men who don’t have HIV, but have other STIs, are at an increased risk of getting HIV if they’re exposed to it during sex. This is because having an STI can cause inflammation at the site of infection or around an STI ulcer or sore, which makes it easier for HIV to enter the body.
What are the symptoms of HIV infection?
When someone goes from being HIV-negative to being HIV-positive, we say that they have “seroconverted.” Right after someone has been infected with HIV, the person might experience something called “seroconversion illness,” which may feel like a bad flu that lasts for a couple of weeks. Some of the symptoms are fever, rashes, a sore throat, and swollen glands.
After experiencing seroconversion illness, the person will probably test positive on HIV tests that detect antibodies to HIV. It takes a few weeks or months for someone who’s been infected with HIV to develop antibodies to the virus.
After seroconversion illness, a person with HIV might experience other symptoms like unexplained diarrhea, weight loss, rashes, or fevers. If HIV is left untreated over a period of time, a HIV-positive person can develop AIDS, or they may get AIDS-related illnesses like pneumonia, brain infections, skin cancers, and severe fungal infections.
The most widely-used HIV test is an antibody blood test. Antibodies are your body’s immune system response to an infection. After being infected with HIV, it usually takes between 4-6 weeks, but may take up to 3 months, for the immune system to develop antibodies to HIV. This means that if an HIV test is done in this “window period” (4-6 weeks, up to 3 months, after infection), the HIV test might come back negative even though there is an HIV infection.
HIV antibody testing at Strut is rapid so results are available the same day. We also do an HIV RNA test. The HIV RNA test is able to detect very recent infections even before your body develops HIV antibodies. The window period for this test is between 9 and 14 days. Because the HIV RNA test has to be sent to a lab, it takes between 5 and 10 business days to get results back from this test.
We recommend that gay and bisexual men, who are currently HIV-negative, get tested for HIV every every 3 months if they are sexually active.
Can HIV be treated?
There is no vaccine or cure for HIV. People with HIV take medications, called antiretrovirals, that help them stay healthy. People with HIV who take antiretrovirals can live long and healthy lives. If HIV isn’t treated, it can lead to AIDS and eventually death.
Antiretroviral medications treat HIV by attacking the virus at different points in its life cycle and preventing HIV from replicating. They don’t eliminate HIV completely from the body, but they can keep the amount of HIV in the body at a low level. This prevents damage to the immune system and helps the immune system recover from any damage caused by HIV.
It is recommended to start antiretroviral therapy immediately after a person tests positive for HIV. At Strut, our staff can link you to a provider right away.
How can it be prevented?
HIV can be prevented by not coming into contact with the blood or semen of someone who has HIV. That means using sterile and new injection equipment for injection drug use and using condoms and water-based lube during sex. HIV-positive people help prevent HIV infection by taking medication that treats their infection and greatly reduces the risk of transmitting the virus to their partners during sex.
PrEP is another effective way to prevent HIV. People who do not have HIV can take PrEP daily to reduce their risk of getting HIV.
Giving oral sex (sucking dick) is “low risk” in terms of getting HIV. You probably will not get HIV from giving oral sex—but having cuts or sores in your mouth, having an STI in your throat, or recent dental work increases your risk. So if any of these applies, ask your partner to wear a condom so you don’t get his semen in your mouth, or don’t have oral sex.
For guys with HIV, having an STI in your urethra will increase the chances that your partner will get HIV if he sucks your dick. Get tested for STIs on a regular basis to reduce risk, or don’t cum in your partner’s mouth if you might have an STI.
Post-Exposure Prophylaxis (PEP)
PEP prevents HIV infection in people who have been recently exposed to HIV. If you are HIV-negative but recently had condomless sex with a guy whose HIV status you didn’t know, for example, you might consider taking PEP to prevent a possible HIV infection. If you have HIV, and think there’s a chance you exposed someone else to HIV, you can tell that person about PEP.
PEP is a four-week course of anti-HIV medications that prevent HIV infection. In order for PEP to work, it has to be started as soon as possible after the HIV exposure event.
That means if you think you’ve been exposed to HIV, and need to access PEP, do so as soon as possible. PEP has to be started within 72 hours (3 days) in order to work.
Contact us to access PEP or visit a hospital emergency department.