Philadelphia City Branding Image

AIDS Activities Coordinating Office (AACO)

HIV 101

HIV affects children, women and men of every age, race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, social class, and economic status.

There is still no cure for HIV, but now there are many treatment options to help people who know their HIV status stay healthy for a very long time.

What is HIV?

HIV stands for human immunodeficiency virus. This is the virus that causes AIDS. HIV is different from most other viruses because it attacks the immune system. The immune system gives our bodies the ability to fight infections. HIV finds and destroys a type of white blood cell (T cells or CD4 cells) that the immune system needs to fight disease.

What is AIDS?

AIDS stands for acquired immunodeficiency syndrome. AIDS is the final stage of HIV infection. It can take years for a person infected with HIV to reach this stage, even if they have not received treatment. Having AIDS means that the virus has weakened the immune system to the point at which the body has a hard time fighting infection. When someone has one or more specific infections, certain cancers, or a very low number of T cells, he or she is considered to have AIDS.

How is HIV Transmitted?

HIV is primarily found in the blood, semen, or vaginal fluid of an infected person. HIV is transmitted in three main ways:

  • Having sex (anal, vaginal or oral) with someone infected with HIV;
  • Sharing needles and syringes with someone infected with HIV; or
  • Being exposed to HIV before or during birth or through breast feeding (fetus or infant)

HIV is a fragile virus. It cannot live for very long outside the body. As a result, the virus is not transmitted through day-to-day activities such as shaking hands, hugging, or a casual kiss. You cannot become infected from a toilet seat, drinking fountain, doorknob, dishes, drinking glasses, food, or pets. You also cannot get HIV from mosquitoes.


Health Information Hotline

Find out where you can get a free HIV test. Learn more about HIV disease and AIDS. Sign up for HIV programs and services:

1-800-985-2437
Monday through Friday, 8:00 AM to 6:00 PM
English and Spanish. Interpreter services are available for other languages.

Callers outside Philadelphia, Bucks, Chester, Delaware or Montgomery County can reach the Hotline at 1-215-985-2437.