Things you never knew about your HIV risk

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You pretty much know the facts when it comes to HIV, right? Well, you might be falsely confident: A study of almost 2,000 people published in BMC Public Health found that almost half had incorrect knowledge about HIV transmission and AIDS. Worse, men were more likely than women to have the wrong info.
The upshot? It’s time to re-familiarize yourself with the virus.
In short, HIV can be dangerous because it at-tacks the immune system hard. “HIV kills a particu-lar kind of immune cell called CD4 T cells, which, once it’s killed enough of them, makes us vulnerable to getting infections and cancers,” says Stacey Rizza, MD, an infectious disease specialist at Mayo Clinic.
Left untreated, HIV can progress into AIDS. The disease is something we should all have a solid understanding of, too, since anyone can get it. Here are six things you didn’t know about your risk of transmission.
Though gay and bisexual men do have the larg-est number of new HIV diagnoses in the United States, anyone can be infected with the virus — women, older people, and heterosexual people in-cluded, notes Rizza.“It’s still very common, unfor-tunately, in men who have sex with men, and that population continues to be at the highest risk for HIV,” she says. “But essentially, everybody else is at risk as well.”
That’s why Rizza suggests always using con-doms — and if you reach a point of monogamy in a relationship, make sure you and your partner are tested for HIV (and show each other the results) before deciding whether or not to stop using protec-tion.
Don’t feel sick? Many people with HIV don’t. “Most people who get HIV may have what feels like a viral illness at the beginning, kind of like the flu or a cold; others feel nothing at all,” Rizza says. “Peo-ple can live with HIV for years or even decades with no knowledge that they’ve been infected.”
That’s why it’s incredibly important to get tested. The Centers for Disease Control and Preven-tion (CDC) recommends that everyone ages 13 to 64 get tested for HIV at least once in their life and that sexually active gay or bisexual men could bene-fit from more frequent testing—once a year if you have any risk factors.
If you’re at a high risk of getting HIV (say, you’re in a relationship with someone with HIV), something called pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) — taking two HIV medicines together as pills every day — can dramatically decrease your chance of getting HIV, Rizza says. PrEP essentially stops HIV from spreading throughout your body. When taken regularly, it’s effective, sinking your risk of getting HIV via sex by more than 90 percent.

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