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Frequently Asked Questions

  • HIV Disease

    Q:  What is HIV?

    A:  HIV stands for human immunodeficiency virus. It is the virus that can lead to acquired immunodeficiency syndrome or AIDS if not treated. Unlike some other viruses, the human body can’t get rid of HIV completely, even with treatment. So once you get HIV, you have it for life.

    HIV attacks the body’s immune system, specifically the CD4 cells (T cells), which help the immune system fight off infections. Untreated, HIV reduces the number of CD4 cells (T cells) in the body, making the person more likely to get other infections or infection-related cancers. Over time, HIV can destroy so many of these cells that the body can’t fight off infections and disease. These opportunistic infections or cancers take advantage of a very weak immune system and signal that the person has AIDS, the last stage of HIV infection.

    No effective cure currently exists, but with proper medical care, HIV can be controlled. The medicine used to treat HIV is called antiretroviral therapy or ART.  If people with HIV take ART as prescribed, their viral load (amount of HIV in their blood) can become undetectable. If it stays undetectable, they can live long, healthy lives and have effectively no risk of transmitting HIV to an HIV-negative partner through sex. Before the introduction of ART in the mid-1990s, people with HIV could progress to AIDS in just a few years. Today, someone diagnosed with HIV and treated before the disease is far advanced can live nearly as long as someone who does not have HIV.

    Q:  How can I tell if I’m infected with HIV?

    A:  The only way to know for sure whether you have HIV is to get tested. Knowing your status is important because it helps you make healthy decisions to prevent getting or transmitting HIV.

    Some people may experience a flu-like illness within 2 to 4 weeks after infection (Stage 1 HIV infection). But some people may not feel sick during this stage. Flu-like symptoms include fever, chills, rash, night sweats, muscle aches, sore throat, fatigue, swollen lymph nodes, or mouth ulcers. These symptoms can last anywhere from a few days to several weeks. During this time, HIV infection may not show up on an HIV test, but people who have it are highly infectious and can spread the infection to others.

    If you have these symptoms, that doesn’t mean you have HIV. Each of these symptoms can be caused by other illnesses. But if you have these symptoms after a potential exposure to HIV, see a health care provider and tell them about your risk. The only way to determine whether you have HIV is to be tested for HIV infection.

    Q: How is HIV passed from one person to another?

    A: HIV is spread mainly by:

    • Sharing needles, syringes, rinse water, or other equipment (works) used to prepare injection drugs with someone who has HIV.
    • Having sex with someone who has HIV without taking precautions such as using a condom.

    Q: Can I get HIV from casual contact, such as shaking hands, sitting on a toilet seat, drinking from the same glass, or being sneezed or coughed on by someone with HIV?

    A: No. HIV is not spread by day-to-day contact in the workplace, schools, or social settings. HIV is not spread through shaking hands, hugging, or a casual kiss. You cannot become infected from a toilet seat, a drinking fountain, a doorknob, dishes, drinking glasses, food, cigarettes, pets, or insects. HIV is not spread through the air, and it does not live long outside the body.

    Q: How can I prevent HIV?

    A: In addition to never sharing needles, you can reduce your risk of getting HIV by limiting your number of sex partners and using condoms correctly every time you have sex. You may also be able to take advantage of a new approach that use medicines that treat HIV to help people at higher risk reduce the chance of becoming HIV-infected. This approach is known as PrEP (which stands for pre-exposure prophylaxis). To find out if PrEP is a good option for you, speak to your doctor.  

    Q: Where can I get tested for HIV?

    A: Go to the Get Tested CDC website and enter Zip Code or City, State and you can find a testing site near you that provides HIV testing.

    Q:  How can I get assistance to pay for my doctor’s appointments and/or medications?

    A:  All applications for HIV Medical Services through the Indiana Department of Health must come through care coordination services at a sanctioned HIV Care Coordination site. There are Care Coordination sites throughout Indiana or call us toll-free at 1-866-588-4948 and select option 1 or 2.

    Q:  How often should I see my primary care/infectious disease provider to get my blood work done?

    A: The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services recommends a person living with HIV Disease have their CD4 and viral load counts done every 3-4 months. These lab tests are very important for managing your care and require a provider’s order. However, your provider may want to see you more or less frequently depending on how HIV disease is impacting you specifically. Remember, it is important to remain in contact with your provider on a regular basis.

    Q:  Where can I find more information about HIV/AIDS?

    A: For information about HIV/AIDS Treatment, Prevention, and Research please visit the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services website AIDSinfo

    Q:  Are there services available to help HIV-infected people who have substance abuse issues?

    A:  The HIV Special Populations Support Program at the Indiana Department of Health provides intensive support services to individuals diagnosed with HIV disease and chemical dependency. A listing of programs available can be found on the HIV/STD Division Web site.

  • Sexually Transmitted Diseases (STDs)

    Q:  I’m worried that I might have an STD.  Where can I go in my area to be tested for syphilis, gonorrhea, or Chlamydia?

    A:  Any of the STD clinics in Indiana will test you for STDs and for HIV Disease if you wish, and will provide treatment for syphilis, gonorrhea, or Chlamydia if you are found to be infected.

    Q:  Is there a charge to be seen at one of the STD clinics?

    A:  Each one is different, so you should call to find out, but in general the STD clinics will see people regardless of their ability to pay.

    Q:  What happens if I test positive for an STD?

    A:  If your test is performed by your private health care provider or a hospital, this information is confidentially reported to the local or state health department.  A specially trained person (Disease Intervention Specialist, or DIS) will confirm with your doctor that you were adequately treated for the STD, and in the case of syphilis, the DIS will probably contact you directly to discuss your infection and exposed partners.  If your test is performed by an STD clinic, you will be treated right there and in most situations, the DIS will discuss your exposed partners at that time.

    Q:  That sounds scary!  Why do you need to talk to me about my sex partners?

    A:  If you have an STD, it means: 1) you got it from someone who probably doesn’t know they are infected; and 2) that you may have spread it to others before you came in for testing and treatment.  All of your sex partners for certain time periods (depending on the infection involved) need to be told they are at risk and be offered the opportunity for testing/treatment.

    Q:  How does partner notification work?  Is this safe for me?

    A:  There are approximately 25 DIS in Indiana who are specially trained to work with people who have an STD or HIV Disease and to help make sure all exposed partners are notified.  We do this by NEVER telling your name to your sex partners; never sharing any information that would let them guess who you are (such as the time of the exposure, whether you’re a male or female, where you live, etc.). The DIS will talk with you more specifically if you have an STD or HIV Disease and will answer all your questions about partner notification.

    Q:  I am a health care provider.  How do I report cases of an STD that I have diagnosed?

    A:  The STD Program asks that you report to one of ten (10) districts (STD reporting districts).  Each district has responsibility for following up with you or the patient as needed and then uploading this information to the state database.