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HIV/AIDS, Hepatitis and STD FAQs

HIV/AIDS Questions & Answers

What is the difference between HIV and AIDS?
HIV is the virus that causes AIDS. HIV stands for Human Immunodeficiency Virus. A person infected with HIV can carry the virus in their body for months or years before they begin to show symptoms or get sick. HIV attacks the immune system and prevents the body from fighting off different infections and diseases. AIDS (Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome) is the name for the condition people develop after getting one or more of the serious infections connected with HIV, or when blood tests show that their immune system has been very badly damaged (T-cell level count under 200). Scientists still don't know how long it takes for a person to become sick and develop AIDS after getting infected with HIV.

I’d like to get tested for HIV. What should I do?
There are two forms of HIV testing available. 

  • Confidential Testing can be provided through a personal physician or at local confidential test sites. The person's name and assessment information is recorded and the testing can be done within a clinic, medical facility or community testing site. If you access the free confidential testing services available through the Santa Cruz County Health Services Agency, the results will be available within 20-25 minutes with rapid HIV testing (see link below).  Otherwise, test results will most likely be available within two weeks or less at other locations and there may be a cost associated with this form of testing.
  • Anonymous Testing can be provided in a variety of settings. The person is assigned a code name and/or number. The assessment information is still recorded but there is no linkage back to the testing person's identity. If you access the free anonymous testing services available through the Santa Cruz County Health Services Agency, the results will be available within 20-25 minutes with rapid HIV testing (see link below).  Otherwise, test results will most likely be available within two weeks or less at other locations.

HIV Testing Sites in Santa Cruz County

I’ve heard that I can get tested without having my blood drawn. How?
The OraQuick ADVANCE Rapid HIV-1/2 Antibody Test device is currently being used at testing sites offered through the Santa Cruz County HIV Testing Program. A flat pad is placed above the teeth against the outer gum. You must gently swab completely around the outer gums, both upper and lower, one time around, using the flat pad. Once the oral fluid specimen has been collected using the flat pad, the test device must then be inserted into the vial of developer solution. The ADVANCE specimen collection device is more than 99% accurate and the results will be available in 25 minutes. There will be no visible sign that someone has been tested and the specimen collection is painless and involves no needles.

How can I protect myself from contracting HIV?
Think about anything you are doing now or have done in the past that might have exposed you to HIV.

You are at risk if you: Probably not at risk if you:
Have had sex with a man or woman who has had other partners. Have had no sex.
Have shared injection drug needles or works, or had sex with someone who has. Have not shared needles to inject drugs or for any other reason, and have not had sex with anyone who has.
Had a blood transfusion before 1985, when HIV testing began, or have had sex with someone who did. Did not receive a blood transfusion or any blood products before 1985.

HIV lives in semen, vaginal fluids, pre-cum, blood and breast milk of a person with HIV. It can be passed during vaginal, oral or anal sex and while sharing needles or equipment to inject drugs or other substances. HIV can also be passed by needles used for tattoos and piercing or to inject vitamins or steroids. An HIV+ mother can also pass HIV to her baby during pregnancy, childbirth or breastfeeding.

Protect yourself from contracting HIV by using a condom and not sharing needles.

How to use a condom:

  1. Place the rolled condom on the head of the penis. Leave room at the tip to catch semen .
  2. Squeeze the air out of the tip. Unroll the condom over the entire penis
  3. After sex, hold the condom at the base of the penis. Then pull out of your partner carefully.

If you use a lubricant, make sure it's water-based. Don't use Vaseline, oils or hand creams. These can make the condom break

Needle Use:  

If you reuse a needle or syringe, keep it clean. Clean it right before and right after each use.

How to clean syringes (works)

  1. Flush with water, wait 30 seconds and do this three times.
  2. Flush with bleach, wait 30 seconds and do this three times.
  3. Flush again with water, wait 30 seconds and do this three times.

Do I have to be a US citizen to get an HIV test?
No. Immigration status has nothing to do with a person's eligibility for an HIV test. Test counselors (at both anonymous and confidential testing sites) do not ask questions regarding citizenship. People who are already US citizens, people waiting to become citizens and people who are not US citizens are all equally eligible to get an HIV test.

Can I be tested if I am under 21?
By law, individuals who are 12 years of age and older are able to receive an HIV test without parental consent. Individuals who are under 12 and wish to be tested should contact the General Medical Clinic at 454-4100.

Hepatitis Questions and Answers

Am I at risk for Hepatitis?

The Hepatitis A, B, and C viruses, which may cause symptoms resulting from inflammation of the liver, are transmitted in distinct ways. Your risk depends on the type of Hepatitis and the type of contact you may have had with it.

  • The Hepatitis A virus (HAV) is spread from person to person by putting something in the mouth that has been contaminated with the feces of a person with hepatitis A. This type of transmission is called "fecal-oral." 

    You can get it when you eat contaminated food or drink contaminated water; use contaminated water to inject drugs; have unprotected oral/anal sex (mouth on anus). Most infections result from contact with a household member or sex partner who has hepatitis A. Casual contact, as in the usual office, factory, or school setting, does not spread the virus.
  • The Hepatitis B virus (HBV) is transmitted by direct contact with the blood or body fluids of an infected person; for example, you can become infected by having sex or sharing needles with an infected person. A baby can get hepatitis B from an infected mother during childbirth.
    • You can get it when you have unprotected oral, vaginal or anal sex; share syringes or injecting equipment or share materials for snorting drugs. Hepatitis B is not spread through the ingestion of food or water or by casual contact.
  • The Hepatitis C virus (HCV) is spread from one person to another primarily by direct contact with human blood. 

Learn more about Hepatitis

HCV Information

You may have gotten infected with HCV if: 

  • you ever injected street drugs, as the needles and/or other drug "works" used to prepare or inject the drug(s) may have had someone else's blood that contained HCV on them. 
  • you received blood, blood products, or solid organs from a donor whose blood contained HCV, prior to 1992.
  • you were ever on long-term kidney dialysis as you may have unknowingly shared supplies/equipment that had someone else's blood on them. 
  • you were ever a healthcare worker and had frequent contact with blood on the job, especially accidental needle sticks. 
  • your mother had hepatitis C at the time she gave birth to you. During the birth her blood may have gotten into your body. 
  • you ever had sex with a person infected with HCV (1-2% transmission rate).
  • you lived with someone who was infected with HCV and shared items such as razors or toothbrushes that might have had his/her blood on them. 
  • you received a tattoo or piercing that was done with unspecialized equipment that had some one else's blood that contained HCV on them.

Sexually Transmitted Disease (STD) Questions and Answers

Am I at risk for Sexually Transmitted Diseases (STDs)?

Most folks who are sexually active have some risk for contracting STDs. It is estimated that there are more than 13 million new cases of sexually transmitted infections each year in the U.S. Of all the reported STD's in California, 29% are among 15-19 year olds and 74% are among 15-24 year olds. However, STD's (infections that generally target the genitals and reproductive organs) affect women and men of all ages, all races, and all sexual orientations.

Although the most common symptom for an STD is having no symptoms at all, it can be helpful to watch out for the following:

  • Women: an unusual discharge or smell from your vagina, pain in the pelvic area - the area between your belly button and genitals, burning or itching in or around your vagina, bleeding from your vagina that is not your regular menstrual period pain during sexual intercourse.
  • Men: a drip or discharge from your penis.
  • Women and Men: sores, bumps or blisters near or on your genitals, anus or mouth needing to pee often genital itching, burning or pain when you pee or have a bowel movement, swelling or redness in the throat, flu-like feelings (aches, fever and chills), swelling in the groin area.

Learn more about STDs by visiting our STD Information Web Page

If you have any of these symptoms, please contact your doctor, or call the Santa Cruz County general medical Clinic for an appointment at 454-4100.