HIV: Know the Facts

Free HIV Testing at HOPES

What is it like getting a rapid HIV test at Northern Nevada HOPES? It’s easy, free and confidential.

This video demonstrates the process of getting tested for HIV at HOPES’ Change Point facility. Our friendly staff and volunteers make getting tested for HIV as painless as possible, so you can know your status. They can answer questions about HIV risk factors and give you condoms, lubricant, safe sex supplies, sterile syringes, and other safe injection equipment.

You can get a screening at Change Point Monday – Friday from 10am – 4pm. Walk ins are always welcome and no appointment is needed.

Find out more about getting tested for HIV or hepatitis C at Change Point.

The Basics of HIV

Below are some frequently asked questions about HIV. There is information on the difference between HIV and AIDS, how HIV is spread as well as how to better protect yourself from contracting the Human Immunodeficiency Virus.

HIV stands for Human Immunodeficiency Virus. The virus is transmitted through certain body fluids such as blood and semen.Print

HIV is similar to a lot of other viruses such as the flu or chickenpox. Though many other viruses are cleared by the body’s own natural immune system, HIV attacks the immune system and is permanent.

HIV weakens the immune system and makes people vulnerable to other diseases. HIV destroys CD4 cells (or T-cells), which are key white blood cells the body uses to identify germs for the immune system to fight off.

When the virus destroys enough CD4 cells, the person enters into the final stage of HIV, known as Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome (AIDS).  People living with HIV/AIDS don’t die from the virus itself, but a weakened immune system can lead to other opportunistic infections (such as tuberculosis) or cancers.

HIV is transmitted through certain body fluids such as:

  • Blood
  • Semen
  • Pre-seminal fluid
  • Rectal fluids
  • Vaginal fluids
  • Breast Milk

These fluids must come in contact with an open wound or sore. HIV is also transmitted when infected fluid comes in contact with mucous membranes, which are the soft, moist areas just inside the openings of your body. These mucous membranes are located in your mouth, lips, eyes, nostrils and genitals.

HIV is most commonly transferred through unprotected sex with an HIV+ partner or when sharing needles with HIV+ people who inject drugs.

Different forms of sex have different risk factors. Using condoms during sex is the best way to prevent the transmission of HIV if you’re sexually active.

Anal sex (penis in the anus of a man or woman) poses the greatest risk for CmenHIV transmission for both partners. Although, receiving anal sex (“bottoming”) has a higher risk than insertive anal sex (“topping”). Anal sex causes tears in the anus thus increasing the chance that HIV will be transferred through blood or semen.

Vaginal Sex (penis in the vagina) is the second riskiest sexual behavior to contract HIV.

Oral Sex with an HIV+ partner carries the least risk of HIV infection. HIV transmission occurs when infected blood or semen comes in contact with mouth sores or ulcers. Performing fellatio (stimulating the penis with the mouth) carries the greatest risk, especially if your partner ejaculates into your mouth. Performing vaginal/anal oral sex carries the least risk of transmission with an HIV+ partner.

Health Tip: avoid brushing, flossing and using mouthwash 30 minutes before/after performing oral sex to avoid opening tears in your mouth, which increases your chance of infection.

Having an STD (such as syphilis, herpes and Gonorrhea) also increases your chances of contracting HIV during sex. Other STD’s can cause inflammation, which increases your chances of contracting HIV.

syringeSharing needles to inject drugs is another common form of transmission. Reusing dirty needles, syringes, rinse water and other equipment (“works”) with a person who is HIV+ has a very high risk of infection.Northern Nevada HOPES offers a syringe services program to help people protect themselves by getting clean needles. Click here to find out more.

  • Air or water (you can’t get HIV by swimming in the same body of water as an HIV-positive person)
  • Insects, including mosquitoes or ticks
  • Kissing
  • Through saliva, tears or sweat
  • Casual contact, like shaking hands, hugging or sharing food or drinking glasses
  • Drinking fountains
  • Toilet seats

CondomCondoms: Proper and consistent condom use during sex can substantially reduce the risk of contracting HIV. Make sure to use lubricant to help prevent the condom from breaking.

Clean needles: Injected drug users contract HIV by sharing needles and equipment with other drug users who are HIV+. To avoid the risk of contracting HIV, only use clean needles, and avoid reusing and sharing equipment (such as cookers, cottons and water) with other people.

Get tested with your partner: Getting tested with your partner is a great way to reduce your risk of getting HIV. Rapid HIV tests can produce results in less than 30 minutes and can be a great way for couples to know their HIV status so they don’t unknowingly transmit it to their partners.

Northern Nevada HOPES provides FREE condoms, safe sex supplies, sterile needles and HIV and hepatitis C testing. Go to the Change Point webpage for more details.

Medication: PrEP and PEP. More on that further down.

pillsPre-Exposure Prophylaxis (PrEP) is a daily pill that can reduce the risk of contracting HIV. It is similar to the medicine used to treat HIV + individuals.

Taken properly, PREP can help lower the risk of contracting HIV by 92 percent. But the CDC still recommends people on PrEP still use condoms and other measures to prevent from getting HIV.

For more information on PrEP, see the Center For Disease Control PrEP website.

Post-Exposure Prophylaxis is an antiretroviral medication used after a single high-risk event. It’s taken to reduce the chances of someone becoming HIV + after being exposed to HIV.

PEP is usually taken by medical workers who have accidently been exposed to HIV (example: accidental needle stick), after sexual assaults, or after an event where someone had a high chance of being exposed to HIV.

PEP should be taken no more than 72 hours after the event. PEP should only be taken in uncommon situations with a high risk of HIV exposure because PEP uses more drugs and higher doses to prevent someone from becoming HIV +. PrEP is a better choice for repeated use.

The only way to know for certain if you have HIV is to get tested.

Most people with HIV don’t show symptoms at all for 10 years or more. There is a wide range of reactions to HIV, and many symptoms can be confused with other diseases.

Symptoms of HIV vary depending on the person and what stage of HIV they are in. Some people only experience mild symptoms and don’t even notice anything wrong, while other people have terrible flu-like symptoms shortly after they contract HIV.

These symptoms can include:

  • Fever (The most common symptom)
  • Swollen glands
  • Sore throat
  • Rash
  • Fatigue
  • Muscle and joint aches and pains
  • Headache

We recommend you get tested for HIV a least once a year, even if you don’t think you’ve been exposed. It’s important to be tested for HIV if you think you have been exposed.

You can get a rapid HIV test for FREE at the Northern Nevada HOPES’s Change Point building. Tests are quick and confidential. A screening only requires a blood sample, which is obtained by a finger prick. Test results are ready in 15 to 20 minutes. If you test positive for HIV, HOPES will schedule a more comprehensive confirmation test and help connect you with resources to help you with HIV.

About 1 in 8 people with HIV don’t know they have it, so it is important to get tested.

HIV does not have a cure at the moment. However, with proper treatment and medicine people living with HIV can lead a normal life with normal life expectancy. Northern Nevada HOPES has many programs to support the physical and mental health of people living with HIV. Click here to get connected into care.

This information was sourced from the Center For Disease Control and Prevention. For more information on HIV risk factors, prevention, and care, visit