While we are still far from a cure, there is an abundance of hope. Since the virus was discovered in 1981, we have made huge strides in HIV prevention and treatment with medications like antiretroviral drug therapy and PrEP. With the help of thousands of advocates, we have secured greater health care coverage and resources than ever before to help end new HIV infections.
But the epidemic is still devastating our friends, families and neighbors.
In the United States…
HIV (Human Immunodeficiency Virus) is a virus that attacks and breaks down the immune system, the body’s “security force” that fights off infections. When the immune system breaks down, you lose this protection and can develop serious, often life-threatening infections and cancers.
AIDS (Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome) is a condition that is acquired once HIV has caused significant damage to the immune system. It usually takes many years before HIV breaks down a person's immune system and causes AIDS; AIDS is the final stage of HIV infection. AIDS is a syndrome, rather than a single disease, because it is a complex illness with a wide range of complications and symptoms.
It is incorrect to say that someone died from AIDS — rather, people die from AIDS-related complications. Think of it this way: AIDS is not a cause of death. It is a cause of the immune system weakening dramatically, allowing fatal illnesses to take hold much easier and quicker.
HIV lives and reproduces in blood and other body fluids. We know that the following fluids can contain high levels of HIV:
Other body fluids and waste products – like feces, nasal fluid, saliva, sweat, tears, urine, or vomit – do not contain enough HIV to infect you, unless they have blood mixed in them and you have significant and direct contact with them.
The most common ways HIV is transmitted include:
There is no danger from casual contact with people living with HIV. HIV cannot live outside of the human body, so you cannot be infected from toilet seats, phones or water fountains. The virus cannot be transmitted in the air through sneezing or coughing. You cannot get it from mosquitoes or other insect or animal bites.
Stigma happens when others devalue a person or a group of people because they are associated with a certain disease, behavior or practice. Those who are stigmatized often experience discrimination in some fashion. The effects of both can be even worse for groups who are already marginalized because of their gender, sexuality, ethnicity or substance abuse.
Stigma and discrimination continue to undermine prevention, treatment and care of people living with HIV. It hinders HIV-positive people from telling their partners about their status. It threatens their access to health care. It increases their vulnerability to physical violence. And HIV-related stigma affects people’s ability to earn a living, making it even more difficult for them to lift themselves out of poverty.
If we can end HIV stigma, we can clear a path to ending HIV. When you participate in the AIDS Run & Walk Chicago, you are taking a public stand against HIV stigma!