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HIV / AIDS Frequently Asked Questions

What do HIV and AIDS stand for?

HIV stands for Human Immunodeficiency Virus. It is the virus that attacks the body's immune system; over time, people become less able to fight off illness and diseases. AIDS stands for Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome. AIDS is the last stage of HIV disease. Doctors make an AIDS diagnosis based on a set of symptoms and conditions identified by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

How is HIV transmitted?

The Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) is spread by direct contact with infected body fluids, including blood, semen, vaginal secretions and breast milk. This means that the HIV contained in one of these body fluids must get into the bloodstream by direct entry into a vein, a break in the skin, or through the mucous linings (such as the eyes, mouth, nose, vagina, rectum or penis). Other body fluids such as urine, saliva, vomit, etc. do not pose a risk unless visible blood is present.

How can I reduce my risk of getting HIV?

There are many ways to reduce your risk of contracting HIV. The basic rules dictate that you avoid swapping bodily fluids; blood, secretions (anal and vaginal), and semen. You should also avoid behaviors that make you more prone to take risks such as drug and alcohol use (especially using needles).

Should I get tested?

Everyone has an HIV status, but not everyone knows what it is. There are many options available for those living with HIV and the sooner you know your status, the more options you'll have open to you. If you or your partner have been at risk, we encourage you to consider testing.

How soon can I get tested?

You can get an accurate test reading as soon as 4 weeks after exposure, but it may take as long as 3 months after each risk exposure to know for sure if you do or don't have HIV. For some people, regular testing is part of their routine sexual health care.

How do I know whether or not I've already been tested for HIV?

If you don't know, chances are you have NOT been tested. You need to give specific consent to be tested for HIV in New York State. The only exceptions to this rule in NYS are: federal prison inmates, individuals indicted and/or convicted of sexual assault (special circumstances may apply), people entering the military or Peace Corps, newborn babies, and mothers presenting in labor and delivery without an HIV test on record.

What can those with HIV do to stay healthy?

People who are HIV-positive can live healthy, productive lives for many years. A person infected with HIV can do many things to stay healthy longer:

  • Exercise regularly to stay strong and fit.
  • Make sure you have a doctor who knows how to treat HIV, and follow your doctor's instructions. Keep your appointments even if you feel fine.
  • Be an active partner in your health care and ask questions about anything you don't understand.
  • Take the medications exactly as your doctor or other health care provider tells you to take them. If you get sick from your medications, call your doctor for advice rather than relying on the advice of your friends or family members.
  • Don't smoke cigarettes or use drugs and/or alcohol. Your body can fight the virus more effectively if you stop smoking, using drugs and/or alcohol. Seek help if you can't stop on your own.
  • Get enough sleep and rest.
  • Eat a balanced diet and seek nutritional assessments from a registered dietician who specializes in HIV.
  • Learn stress-management techniques. Many people find it easier to cope with the chronic stress of living with HIV/AIDS if they have a good social support network and/or engage in prayer or meditation.
  • Women should get a pap test once a year. Women infected with HIV are more likely to have an abnormal pap test than women who do not have HIV.
  • Talk to your doctor about getting vaccinated against hepatitis A and B.

Is there a cure for HIV/AIDS?

No. There is NO CURE OR VACCINE for HIV infection or AIDS. Research scientists in the US and other countries are actively working toward the development of a cure. To date, no one has ever been able to cure any virus known to mankind; however, there are medications to help treat HIV.

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Sexually Transmitted Infections (STIs) FAQs

What is a Sexually Transmitted Infection (STI)?

STIs can infect you in many ways. They can be caused by bacteria, viruses or parasites. STIs are found on the body, in blood and in body fluids like semen (cum) and vaginal fluids. Sometimes, STIs like genital warts and herpes can be spread through skin-to-skin contact; simply kissing someone with a herpes blister may be enough to infect you.
STIs are spread from person to person during sex – vaginal, oral, or anal. Injection drug use (IDU), tattooing or body piercing can also spread an infection if the needles and equipment aren't clean. An STI can be passed from a mother to her baby during pregnancy, at the time of delivery and through the process of breastfeeding.
Most STIs can be cured, but some will never go away and require lifelong treatment. Having an STI also puts you at a greater risk of getting HIV/AIDS.

Is an STD the same as an STI?

Yes. It's just another term used to describe infections that are spread through sexual contact.

What are the symptoms?

It's not always easy to recognize the signs of an STI in you or your partner. In fact, some STIs have no symptoms at all, so you may not even know you have one unless you get tested.
You might have an STI if you experience any of these signs:

  • Burning feeling in your genitals or when you pee.
  • Sores, small bumps or blisters on or near your penis, vagina or anus.
  • Itching around your penis, vagina or anus.
  • Unusual discharge from the vagina or penis, of a different color, smell or amount than normal.
  • Lower abdominal pain.
  • Pain in the testicles.
  • Bleeding after intercourse or between periods.
  • Pain during sex or masturbation.
  • For women, unusual bleeding during your period.

REMEMBER: Using condoms every time you have sex can lower your chances of getting an STI and HIV/AIDS.

What do I do if I think I have an STI?

If you think you might have a sexually transmitted infection, get it checked out as soon as possible. Community Access Services can provide you with free and; confidential screening for gonorrhea, syphilis and Chlamydia. If your screening result is positive, treatment is available on-site for $15. No appointment is necessary.
If you need to be screened for other STIs, we can link you with an on-site medical provider—Evergreen Medical Group - or you can request this service from your primary care doctor or the Erie County Health Department STD Clinic at 681 William St, Buffalo 14206.
To be on the safe side, it's best to avoid having sex until you've seen a doctor about your concerns.

How often should I get tested?

If you're sexually active, it's a good idea to get tested every year for STIs even if you feel fine.  It's a good practice to go for testing if you're about to start a new relationship. Ask your partner to do the same! Some STIs have no symptoms so you may not even know you have one unless you get tested.

What to expect when you get tested…

For the screenings provided by Community Access Services (gonorrhea, syphilis, Chlamydia), a nurse will collect a urine sample and draw a small amount of blood.  It typically takes about half an hour, from start to finish. 
Screenings for other STIs may require:

  • Visual check of your genitals, and examination for discharge, pain or sores
  • Take a swab from a lesion or sore if you have one
  • Take a swab from the opening of the penis (for men) or vagina and/or cervix (for women)

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Hepatitis C FAQs

Overview

What is Hepatitis?

“Hepatitis” means inflammation of the liver. Toxins, certain drugs, some diseases, heavy alcohol use, and bacterial and viral infections can all cause hepatitis. Hepatitis is also the name of a family of viral infections that affect the liver; the most common types are Hepatitis A, Hepatitis B, and Hepatitis C, which are caused by three different viruses. Although each can cause similar symptoms, they have different modes of transmission and can affect the liver differently.

There are vaccines to prevent Hepatitis A and B; however, there is not a vaccine for Hepatitis C.

What is Hepatitis C?

Hepatitis C is a contagious liver disease that ranges in severity from a mild illness lasting a few weeks to a serious, lifelong illness that attacks the liver. It results from infection with the Hepatitis C virus (HCV), which is spread primarily through contact with the blood of an infected person. Hepatitis C can be either “acute” or “chronic.”
Acute Hepatitis C virus infection is a short-term illness that occurs within the first 6 months after someone is exposed to the Hepatitis C virus. For most people, acute infection leads to chronic infection.
Chronic Hepatitis C virus infection is a long-term illness that occurs when the Hepatitis C virus remains in a person’s body. Hepatitis C virus infection can last a lifetime and lead to serious liver problems, including cirrhosis (scarring of the liver) or liver cancer.

Transmission / Exposure

How is Hepatitis C spread?

Hepatitis C is usually spread when blood from a person infected with the Hepatitis C virus enters the body of someone who is not infected. Today, most people become infected with the Hepatitis C virus by sharing needles or other equipment to inject drugs. Before 1992, when widespread screening of the blood supply began in the United States, Hepatitis C was also commonly spread through blood transfusions and organ transplants. 

There are other, less common means of being infected with Hepatitis C, including:

  • mother-to-child transmission,
  • tattooing or body piercing with non-sterile instruments,
  • needle-stick injuries in the workplace,
  • having sex with a person who is infected with hepatitis C,  and
  • sharing personal care items—like razors or toothbrushes—that have come in contact with another person’s blood.

How long does the Hepatitis C virus survive outside the body?

The Hepatitis C virus can survive outside the body at room temperature, on environmental surfaces, for at least 16 hours but no longer than 4 days.

What are ways Hepatitis C is not spread?

Hepatitis C virus is not spread by sharing eating utensils, breastfeeding, hugging, kissing, holding hands, coughing, or sneezing. It is also not spread through food or water.

Symptoms

What are the symptoms of acute Hepatitis C?

Approximately 70%–80% of people with acute Hepatitis C do not have any symptoms. Some people, however, can have mild to severe symptoms soon after being infected, including:

  • Fever
  • Fatigue
  • Loss of appetite
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Abdominal pain
  • Dark urine
  • Clay-colored bowel movements
  • Joint pain
  • Jaundice (yellow color in the skin or eyes)

Is it possible to have Hepatitis C and not know it?

Yes, many people who are infected with the Hepatitis C virus do not know they are infected because they do not look or feel sick.

What are the symptoms of chronic Hepatitis C?

Most people with chronic Hepatitis C do not have any symptoms. However, if a person has been infected for many years, his or her liver may be damaged. In many cases, there are no symptoms of the disease until liver problems have developed.

How serious is chronic Hepatitis C?

Chronic Hepatitis C is a serious disease that can result in long-term health problems, including liver damage, liver failure, liver cancer, or even death. It is the leading cause of cirrhosis and liver cancer and the most common reason for liver transplantation in the United States. Approximately 15,000 people die every year from Hepatitis C related liver disease.

Tests

Who should get tested for Hepatitis C?

Talk to your doctor about being tested for Hepatitis C if any of the following are true:

  • You are a current or former injection drug user, even if you injected only one time or many years ago.
  • You work in health care or public safety and were exposed to blood through a needle-stick or other sharp object injury.
  • You were born from 1945 through 1965.
  • You were treated for a blood clotting problem before 1987.
  • You received a blood transfusion or organ transplant before July 1992.
  • You are on long-term hemodialysis treatment.
  • You have abnormal liver tests or liver disease.
  • You are infected with HIV.

How can I get tested?

Community Access Services can provide you with a screening for the Hepatitis C virus, which shows whether you have antibodies to Hepatitis C in your immune system.  This test takes 15-30 minutes.  Should you receive a reactive result,  you will be referred to your primary care doctor or our on-site medical practice for a confirmatory test and to discuss treatment options.
Testing is available by appointment or walk-in visit, Monday through Friday during normal business hours. 

Treatment

How is acute Hepatitis C treated?

There is no medication available to treat acute Hepatitis C infection. Doctors usually recommend rest, adequate nutrition, and fluids.

How is chronic Hepatitis C treated?

Each person should discuss treatment options with a doctor who specializes in treating hepatitis. This can include some internists, family practitioners, infectious disease doctors, or hepatologists (liver specialists). People with chronic Hepatitis C should be monitored regularly for signs of liver disease and evaluated for treatment. The treatment most often used for Hepatitis C is a combination of two medicines, interferon and ribavirin. However, not every person with chronic Hepatitis C needs, or will benefit from treatment. In addition, the drugs may cause serious side effects in some patients.

Is it possible to get over Hepatitis C?

Yes, approximately 15%–25% of people who get Hepatitis C will clear the virus from their bodies without treatment and will not develop chronic infection. Experts do not fully understand why this happens for some people. 

Hepatitis C and Co-infection with HIV

What is HIV and Hepatitis C virus co-infection?

HIV and Hepatitis C virus co-infection refers to being infected with both HIV and the Hepatitis C virus. Co-infection is more common in persons who inject drugs. In fact, 50%–90% of HIV-infected persons who use injection drugs are also infected with the Hepatitis C virus.

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[Content provided and maintained by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)]