HIV & AIDS Information and Education

What is HIV and AIDS?

HIV (Human Immunodeficiency Virus) is a virus that that attacks a person’s immune system – the part of the body that helps fight off infections.

AIDS (Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome) is a condition caused by HIV after it has already done serious damage to the immune system. Once the disease has progressed to the point that a person is diagnosed with AIDS, they are at risk of dying from infections that would be easy for someone with a healthy immune system to fight off, such as the common cold.

While there is no cure for HIV/AIDS, it is possible to keep the disease in check and live a long and happy life by taking HIV medications (called antiretroviral therapy or ART).  

 How does HIV testing work?

HIV is diagnosed by testing for the presence of antibodies to the virus using a small blood sample.

Testing for HIV is fast and accurate, and depending on the type of testing necessary, you can get your results in as quick as 30 minutes, or up to one week. There are also additional options to test for other STDs that are transmitted the same way as HIV.

Our Adult Health Services offers syphilis and HIV testing at two locations in Tarrant County. Testing and counseling sessions take approximately 30 minutes but can vary depending on your risk factors as well as the results of your test(s).

Rapid tests can also be purchased from a pharmacy and performed at home for relatively little cost.

To learn more about comprehensive STD screening, including testing for HIV, syphilis and other STDs, visit our Sexually Transmitted Disease (STDs/HIV) information page.

For more information on HIV testing, HIV treatment, and HIV prevention through Tarrant County Public Health, please visit:

HIV Testing Information
HIV Service Providers

Why is HIV testing important?

If you are infected with HIV, it’s important to find out as soon as possible because there are things you can do to keep yourself healthy. Getting HIV treatment early on can help delay or even prevent you from developing AIDS. You can also take steps to prevent infecting other people with HIV.

If you are pregnant and infected with HIV, there are medicines you can take to reduce your baby’s risk of getting HIV, both during and after your pregnancy.

Who should get an HIV test?

Anyone who engages in one or more of the following activities should get tested for HIV on a regular basis (at least once per year):

  • Sex (anal, vaginal or oral) without a condom with someone whose HIV status you do not know – even if that person is your boyfriend, girlfriend or spouse.
  • Sex with more than one sexual partner (male or female). The more partners you have, the greater your risk.
  • Sharing needles, syringes or equipment used to prepare an injection.
  • Testing positive for (or being treated for) any sexually transmitted disease (STD), hepatitis, or tuberculosis.
  • Exchanging sex for money, drugs or other goods.
  • Receiving blood products between 1978 and 1985.
  • Sex (even once) with anyone who has done any of these things referenced above.

How do you get HIV?  

HIV is only transmitted through contact with blood, semen, vaginal secretions or breast milk from an infected person.

The 3 most common ways people get HIV are:

  1. Having unprotected anal or vaginal sex.
  2. Sharing needles, syringes, or other equipment to inject drugs.
  3. Passing the virus on to a baby during pregnancy, while giving birth, or while breastfeeding.

Other less common ways people can get HIV include:

  • Oral sex, especially if the person giving oral sex has open mouth sores or bleeding gums.
  • Deep, open-mouth kissing could possibly transmit HIV if both partners have open mouth sores or bleeding gums.
  • Receiving HIV-infected blood products between 1978 and 1985. All donated blood has been screened for HIV since 1985, and you cannot get HIV by donating blood.

How you WON'T get infected

It’s understandable to be afraid of catching HIV, but because of this fear, there are a lot of myths that have arisen about how you can catch the virus.

It’s perfectly safe to live, work, or go to school with someone who has HIV. The virus isn’t present in their saliva, mucus, tears, or sweat, so HIV cannot be transmitted through:

  • Shaking hands, hugging, or closed-mouth kissing
  • Sharing food, plates, cups or forks
  • Using toilets, tubs, or swimming pools
  • Sneezing or coughing

The HIV virus can’t live long outside of the human body, so it also can’t be transmitted through the air, on surfaces, or via insects like mosquitoes or ticks.

How can you avoid getting HIV?  

Sex is the most common way most people get HIV, so the only sure way to avoid getting the disease this way is to not have sex. If you are going to have sex, stay with one partner who only has sex with you and make sure to use condoms every time you have sex.

It’s also a good idea to avoid using drugs or alcohol when you plan on engaging in sex, as these substances can make you more likely to engage in risky behavior.

If you inject drugs, it’s important to never share needles, syringes, or other equipment to inject or prepare drugs (such as a cooker). We highly recommend speaking to a counselor, doctor, or other care provider about getting treatment for substance abuse.

Low-cost or free substance abuse resources:

Free Rehab Centers (Fort Worth)

MHMR Tarrant County

How can you tell if someone has HIV?  

It is impossible to tell if someone has HIV just by looking at them. HIV symptoms depend on the stage of infection, with most people only experiencing flu-like symptoms in the early stages (2-4 weeks after infection).

After that, many people with HIV don’t have any symptoms and feel perfectly fine. They may not even know they have the virus – but they can still pass it on to others. Anyone can become infected with HIV, it has nothing to do with race, age, religion, nationality, or sexual orientation.

The only way you can find out if you’re infected with HIV is to get an HIV test. Tarrant County Public Health offers FREE HIV testing, see HIV Testing Information for details.

Pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) medications for HIV

If you engage in activities that put you at risk (such as having unprotected sex with multiple partners or those with HIV, inject drugs, or anything else), there are medications you can take to protect yourself from HIV.

Called PrEP (pre-exposure prophylaxis) , when taken correctly, these drugs can be highly effective at preventing you from getting HIV.

How can you tell if someone is infected with HIV?

You cannot tell if someone has HIV or AIDS by looking at them. A person infected with HIV may look healthy and feel fine, but they can still pass the virus to you. An HIV antibody test is the way a person can find out if he or she is infected with HIV.

Anyone can become infected with HIV. It has nothing to do with race, age, religion, nationality or sexual orientation. People get infected with HIV because of what they do, not who they are.

How do you get infected with HIV?

HIV is spread through blood, semen, vaginal secretions and breast milk. Contact with these body fluids puts you at risk for HIV infection:

  • Having sex (anal, vaginal or oral), with someone who is infected with HIV.
  • Sharing needles or syringes with someone who is infected. This includes sharing needles to shoot drugs or vitamins, to pierce body parts, or for tattoos.
  • A woman with HIV can pass the virus to her baby during pregnancy or birth.
  • A few babies have been infected by breastfeeding from their infected mother.
  • Although all donated blood has been screened for HIV since 1985, some people got the virus by receiving HIV-infected blood products between 1978 and 1985. You cannot get HIV by giving blood.

How you WON'T get infected.

You cannot get HIV through the air or from casual contact. HIV is not spread by:

  • Living, working or going to school with someone with HIV infection;
  • Shaking hands, hugging, or kissing;
  • Sneezing or coughing;
  • Sharing food, plates, cups or forks;
  • Toilets, tubs, or swimming pools; or
  • Mosquitoes or other insects.

How can you avoid HIV infection?

  • Don't have sex. This is the only sure way to avoid getting HIV through sex.
  • Don't share needles and syringes to shoot drugs or for anything else.
  • Use a latex condom every time you have sex unless you are sure your partner is not infected. When used the right way, condoms greatly reduce the chance you will get HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases.
  • Stay with one partner who has sex only with you. Use condoms unless you are sure your partner is not infected with HIV.
This page was last modified on November 28, 2022


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