HIV: Basic Information

HIV program collage

Basic facts about HIV

HIV stands for human immunodeficiency virus. It weakens a person’s immune system by destroying important cells that fight disease and infection.

No effective cure exists for HIV; however, with proper medical care, HIV can be managed and a person with HIV can live a healthy life.

For more information, download the fact sheet on HIV from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and visit their About HIV/AIDS webpage.

Download the HIV Fact Sheet (English and Spanish) (PDF)

CDC HIV can be transmitted by sexual contact, needles, mother to baby

Prevention is key

Male gay couple taking a selfie with a rainbow flag

HIV prevention is important for everyone, for people who are at risk for HIV, as well as people living with HIV. In Wisconsin, HIV affects some groups more than others. This includes gay, bisexual, and other men who have sex with men (MSM); racial and ethnic minorities (especially African Americans/Black people); and young people.

Ways to prevent HIV include:

  • Limiting the number of sexual partners.
  • Never sharing needles.
  • Using a condom the right way every time you have sex.
  • Taking HIV medications as prescribed, every day, if you are a person living with HIV.
  • Not having sex (abstinence).

In addition, there are HIV medications called PrEP (pre-exposure prophylaxis) that people who are HIV negative can take to prevent contracting HIV. There are also medications, PEP (post-exposure prophylaxis), a person can take after they might have been exposed to HIV. These medications can prevent HIV from establishing in the body. Learn more about PrEP and Wisconsin resources.

The CDC offers more information about the steps to take to prevent HIV infection.

There are local agencies funded by the Division of Public Health to provide HIV prevention services. Learn more about Wisconsin agencies funded to provide HIV prevention services. P-02336. (PDF)

HIV testing is the first step

Two men consulting together

The only way to know for sure whether you have HIV is to get tested. The CDC recommends that everyone ages 13 to 64 be tested for HIV at least once. Knowing your HIV status gives you powerful knowledge to help you take steps to keep you and your partners healthy. For more information, download the CDC fact sheet on HIV testing and check out the testing website.

Download the HIV Testing Fact Sheet (English and Spanish). (PDF)

CDC HIV 101 Should I get tested for HIV

The Wisconsin Department of Health Services Division of Public Health funds local agencies that provide free HIV testing.

Living with HIV

Multi-generational family: grandmother, mother and daughter

For people living with HIV, there are several important ways to keep healthy and protect others.

Key points to consider include:

  • Staying healthy.
  • Discussing your HIV status with sex and needle-sharing partners.
  • Getting support from service providers and others.
  • Reducing the risk to others. When a person with HIV takes their medication exactly as prescribed, the amount of HIV in their body is so small that they cannot pass HIV to others through sex.


Download the Living with HIV Fact Sheet (English and Spanish). (PDF)

CDC HIV 101 Living with HIV - How can I stay healthy

There are several local agencies funded by the Division of Public Health that provide a variety of services for persons living with HIV. Learn more about Wisconsin agencies funded to provide services to persons living with HIV. (PDF)

Last Revised: April 12, 2021