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HIV Among Latinos

Anyone can become infected with HIV. In the United States, more than 1.1 million people live with HIV. Almost 1 in 5 are unaware of their infection.

Latinos are the largest and fastest-growing ethnic minority in the United States and one of the groups most heavily impacted by HIV. Among Latinos, gay and bisexual men bear the greatest burden of HIV infection.

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Latino gay and bisexual men are at risk for HIV. In 2010, among gay and bisexual men, Latinos accounted for an estimated 22% of the new infections. The largest number of new infections occurred among Latino gay and bisexual men between the ages of 25 and 34.

Arrow pointing rightLearn more about the impact of HIV among gay and bisexual men.

There is reason to be hopeful. You have the power to stop HIV. Knowing if you have HIV or not is important. The only way to know if you have HIV is to get tested. HIV testing is free, fast, and confidential.

Whether you test positive or negative, you can use that knowledge to take better care of yourself and your loved ones. We encourage you to get involved.

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Answers to Frequently Asked Questions

What is HIV?

HIV stands for human immunodeficiency virus. It is the virus that can lead to acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS). Unlike some other viruses, the human body cannot get rid of HIV. That means that once you have HIV, you have it for life.

No safe and effective cure currently exists, but scientists are working hard to find one, and remain hopeful. Meanwhile, with proper medical care, HIV can be controlled. Treatment for HIV is often called antiretroviral therapy (ART). It can dramatically prolong the lives of many people infected with HIV and lower their chance of infecting others. 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 have a nearly normal life expectancy.

HIV affects specific cells of the immune system, called CD4 cells, or T cells. Over time, HIV can destroy so many of these cells that the body can't fight off infections and disease. When this happens, HIV infection leads to AIDS.

Why are Latino gay and bisexual men impacted?

Gay and bisexual men are more severely affected by HIV than any other group in the United States. There is no easy answer to explain why Latino gay and bisexual men are being hit hard by the HIV epidemic. Research shows a multitude of societal, economic, and structural factors contribute to the HIV epidemic in Latino gay and bisexual men. Such factors include poverty, homophobia, stigma and discrimination, limited access to health care, immigration status, migration patterns, and language or cultural barriers.

We also know that unemployment, racism, depression, stigma, and having older sex partners (who are more likely to be infected with HIV) are additional factors that may contribute to gay and bisexual men being more likely to get this disease.

Many gay and bisexual men may think they do not have HIV because they feel fine. But if they don't get tested there is no way to know for sure, and they may unknowingly give HIV to their next partner.

Other men may avoid getting tested or not tell you about their HIV status because of the stigma that may come with being HIV positive.

How can I tell if I'm infected with HIV?

The only way to know if you are infected with HIV is to be tested. You cannot rely on symptoms to know whether you have HIV. Many people who are infected with HIV do not have any symptoms at all for 10 years or more. Some people who are infected with HIV report having flu-like symptoms (often described as "the worst flu ever") 2 to 4 weeks after exposure. Symptoms can include:

  • Fever
  • Enlarged lymph nodes
  • Sore throat
  • Rash

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.

However, you should not assume you have HIV if you have any of these symptoms. Each of these symptoms can be caused by other illnesses. Again, the only way to determine whether you are infected with HIV is to be tested. For information on where to find an HIV testing site:

  • Visit National HIV and STD Testing Resources and enter your ZIP code.
  • Text your ZIP code to KNOWIT (566948), and you will receive a text back with a testing site near you.
  • Call 800-CDC-INFO (800-232-4636) to ask for free testing sites in your area.

These resources are confidential. You can also ask your health care provider to give you an HIV test.

Two types of home testing kits are available in most drugstores or pharmacies: one involves getting a swab of fluid from your mouth, using the kit to test it, and reading the results in 20 minutes. The other involves pricking your finger for a blood sample, sending the sample to a laboratory, then phoning in for results. Confidential counseling and referrals for treatment are available with both kinds of home tests.

If you test positive for HIV, you should see your doctor as soon as possible to begin treatment.

What are the stages of HIV?

HIV infection has a well-documented progression. Untreated, HIV is almost universally fatal because it eventually overwhelms the immune system—resulting in acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS). HIV treatment helps people at all stages of the disease, and treatment can slow or prevent progression from one stage to the next.

A person can transmit HIV to others during any of these stages:

Acute infection: Within 2 to 4 weeks after infection with HIV, you may feel sick with flu-like symptoms. This is called acute retroviral syndrome (ARS) or primary HIV infection, and it is the body's natural response to the HIV infection. (Not everyone develops ARS, however, and some people may have no symptoms.)

During this period of infection, large amounts of HIV are being produced in your body. The virus uses important immune system cells called CD4 cells to make copies of itself and destroys these cells in the process. Because of this, your CD4 count can fall quickly.

Your ability to spread HIV is highest during this stage because the amount of virus in your blood is very high.

Eventually, your immune response will begin to bring the amount of virus in your body back down to a stable level. At this point, your CD4 count will begin to increase, but it may not return to pre-infection levels.

Clinical latency (inactivity or dormancy): This period is sometimes called asymptomatic HIV infection or chronic HIV infection. During this phase, HIV is still active, but it reproduces at very low levels. You may not have any symptoms or get sick during this time. People who are on antiretroviral therapy (ART) may live with clinical latency for several decades. For people who are not on ART, this period can last up to a decade, but some may progress through this phase faster. It is important to remember that you are still able to transmit HIV to others during this phase even if you are treated with ART, although ART greatly reduces the risk. Toward the middle and end of this period, your viral load begins to rise and your CD4 cell count begins to drop. As this happens, you may begin to have symptoms of HIV infection as your immune system becomes too weak to protect you.

AIDS (acquired immunodeficiency syndrome): This is the stage of infection that occurs when your immune system is badly damaged and you become vulnerable to infections and infection-related cancers, called opportunistic illnesses. When the number of your CD4 cells falls below 200 cells per cubic millimeter of blood (200 cells/mm3), you are considered to have progressed to AIDS. (Normal CD4 counts are between 500 and 1,600 cells/mm3.) You can also be diagnosed with AIDS if you develop one or more opportunistic illnesses, regardless of your CD4 count. Without treatment, people who are diagnosed with AIDS typically survive about 3 years. Once someone has a dangerous opportunistic illness, life expectancy without treatment falls to about 1 year. People with AIDS need medical treatment to prevent death.

How is HIV passed from one person to another?

Only certain fluids—blood, semen (cum), pre-seminal fluid (pre-cum), rectal fluids, vaginal fluids, and breast milk—from an HIV-infected person can transmit HIV. These fluids must come in contact with a mucous membrane or damaged tissue or be directly injected into the bloodstream (from a needle or syringe) for transmission to possibly occur. Mucous membranes can be found inside the rectum, the vagina, the opening of the penis, and the mouth.

In the United States, HIV is spread mainly by having unprotected sex (sex without a condom) with someone who has HIV:

  • Anal sex is the highest-risk sexual behavior.
  • Receptive anal sex (bottoming) is riskier than insertive anal sex (topping).
  • Vaginal sex is the second highest-risk sexual behavior.
  • Oral sex carries much less risk.
  • Having multiple sex partners or having other sexually transmitted infections can increase the risk of infection through sex.
  • Sharing needles, syringes, rinse water, or other equipment (works) used to prepare injection drugs with someone who has HIV is another high-risk behavior.

Less commonly, HIV may be spread the following ways:

  • Being born to an infected mother: HIV can be passed from mother to child during pregnancy, birth, or breastfeeding.
  • Being stuck with an HIV-contaminated needle or other sharp object: This is a risk mainly for health care workers.
  • Receiving blood transfusions, blood products, or organ/tissue transplants that are contaminated with HIV: This risk is extremely small because of rigorous testing of the U.S. blood supply and donated organs and tissues.
  • Eating food that has been pre-chewed by an HIV-infected person: The contamination occurs when infected blood from a caregiver's mouth mixes with food while chewing, and is very rare.
  • Being bitten by a person with HIV: Each of the very small number of documented cases has involved severe trauma with extensive tissue damage and the presence of blood. There is no risk of transmission if the skin is not broken.
  • Any type of oral sex involves using the mouth to stimulate the penis, vagina, or anus (fellatio, cunnilingus, and rimming). However, giving fellatio (mouth to penis oral sex), and having the person ejaculate (cum) in your mouth is riskier than other types of oral sex.
  • Contact between broken skin, wounds, or mucous membranes and HIV-infected blood or blood-contaminated body fluids: These reports have also been extremely rare.
  • Deep, open-mouth kissing if the person with HIV has sores or bleeding gums and blood is exchanged: HIV is not spread through saliva. Transmission through kissing alone is extremely rare.

Can I get HIV from casual contact ("social kissing," shaking hands, hugging, using a toilet, drinking from the same glass, or the sneezing and coughing of an infected person)?

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 casual kissing. You cannot become infected from toilet seats, drinking fountains, door knobs, dishes, drinking glasses, food, cigarettes, or pets.

HIV is not spread through the air, and it does not live long outside the body.

Can I get HIV from anal sex?

Yes. In fact, having anal sex is the riskiest type of sex for getting or spreading HIV.

HIV can be found in the blood, semen (cum), preseminal fluid (pre-cum), or rectal fluid of a person infected with the virus. The bottom is at greater risk of getting HIV because the lining of the rectum is thin and may allow HIV to enter the body during anal sex, but the top is also at risk because HIV can enter through the opening of the penis or through small cuts, abrasions, or open sores on the penis. See the HIV Prevention Questions and Answers for more information.

Can I get HIV from vaginal sex?

Yes. In general, vaginal sex is not as risky anal sex but is still a high-risk behavior for HIV infection. It is possible for either partner to become infected this way. This risk depends on many factors, including whether the partners are using condoms, whether the partner with HIV is using antiretroviral therapy (ART) consistently and correctly and whether the partner who is HIV-negative is using pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) consistently and correctly. Condoms and HIV medicines can greatly lower the risk of transmitting HIV.

In women, HIV can be directly absorbed through the mucous membranes that line the vagina and cervix. The lining of the vagina can also sometimes tear and possibly allow HIV to enter the body.

In men, HIV can enter the body through the urethra (the opening at the tip of the penis) or through small cuts or open sores on the penis. Men who are not circumcised are at greater risk of HIV infection through vaginal sex than are circumcised men.

Risk for HIV infection increases if you or a partner also has a sexually transmitted disease (STD). See also Is there a connection between HIV and other sexually transmitted infections?

Many barrier methods that women use to prevent pregnancy (e.g., diaphragm, cervical cap) do not protect them against HIV or other STDs because they still allow infected semen (cum) to come in contact with the lining of the vagina.

Oral or hormonal contraceptives (e.g., birth control pills) do not protect women against HIV or other STDs.

Can I get HIV from oral sex or oral-anal contact (rimming)?

Yes, but most types of oral sex carry little to no risk of HIV.

Oral sex involves giving or receiving oral stimulation to the penis (fellatio), the vagina (cunnilingus), or the anus (anilingus or rimming). Most types of oral sex carry little to no risk of HIV. The highest oral sex risk is performing oral sex (fellatio) with ejaculation in your mouth. However, the risk is still low, and much lower than anal or vaginal sex. Factors that may increase the risk of transmitting HIV through oral sex are oral ulcers, bleeding gums, genital sores, and the presence of other sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) (which may or may not be visible).

The risk is lower if the partners are using condoms or dental dams, if the partner with HIV is taking antiretroviral therapy (ART) consistently and correctly, and if the partner who is HIV-negative is taking pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) consistently and correctly. Condoms and HIV medicines can greatly lower the risk of transmitting HIV.

For more information, see Oral Sex and HIV Risk.

Is there a connection between HIV and other sexually transmitted infections?

Yes. Having a sexually transmitted infection (STI) can increase the risk of getting or spreading HIV. If you are HIV-negative but have an STI, you are at least 2 to 5 times more likely to get HIV if you have unprotected sex with someone who has HIV. There are two ways that having an STI can increase the likelihood of getting HIV. If the STI causes irritation of the skin (e.g., from syphilis, herpes, or human papillomavirus), breaks or sores may make it easier for HIV to enter the body during sexual contact. Even STIs that cause no breaks or open sores (e.g., chlamydia, gonorrhea, trichomoniasis) can increase your risk by causing an increase in the number of cells that can serve as targets for HIV.

If you are HIV-positive and also infected with another STI, you are 3 to 5 times more likely than other HIV-infected people to spread HIV through sexual contact. This appears to happen because there is an increased concentration of HIV in the semen and genital fluids of HIV-positive people.

For more information about the connection between HIV and other STIs, see the CDC fact sheet, The Role of STD Detection and Treatment in HIV Prevention. To get tested for HIV or other STIs, find a testing site near you.

Can I get HIV from injecting drugs?

Yes. If you share injection drug equipment with someone who has HIV, your risk is high.

Risk also depends on whether the person who has HIV is using antiretroviral therapy (ART) consistently and correctly, and whether the person who is HIV-negative is using preexposure prophylaxis (PrEP) consistently and correctly.

Sharing drug equipment (or works) can also be a risk for spreading HIV. Infected blood can get into drug solutions by

  • Using blood-contaminated syringes to prepare drugs.
  • Reusing water.
  • Reusing bottle caps, spoons, or other containers (cookers) to dissolve drugs in water and to heat drug solutions.
  • Reusing small pieces of cotton or cigarette filters (cottons) to filter out particles that could block the needle.

"Street sellers" of syringes may repackage used syringes and sell them as sterile syringes. For this reason, people who continue to inject drugs should get syringes from reliable sources of sterile syringes, such as pharmacies or needle-exchange programs.

It is important to know that sharing a needle or syringe for any use, including skin popping and injecting steroids, hormones, or silicone, can put you at risk for HIV and other blood-borne infections.

For more information, see If I use drugs, how can I prevent getting HIV?

Can I get HIV from using other kinds of drugs?

Not directly, but drinking alcohol or taking drugs that are not injected can increase your risk for HIV. Being drunk or high affects your ability to make safe choices and lowers your inhibitions, which may lead you to take risks you are less likely to take when sober, such as having sex without a condom.

Methamphetamine (meth) is a very addictive stimulant that can be snorted, smoked, or injected. Even though using meth is an HIV risk factor for anyone who does it, there is a strong link between meth use and HIV transmission for gay and bisexual men. Gay and bisexual men who use meth may increase their sexual and drug-use risk factors. They may:

  • Use condoms less often
  • Have more sex partners and have sex over a longer period of time
  • Engage in unprotected anal sex—especially as the receptive partner
  • Inject meth instead of smoking or snorting it

Drinking alcohol, particularly binge drinking, and using "club drugs" like Ecstasy, ketamine, GHB, and poppers can alter your judgment and impair your decisions about sex or other drug use. You may be more likely to have unplanned and unprotected sex or use other drugs, including injection drugs or meth. Those behaviors can increase your risk of exposure to HIV. If you have HIV, this can also increase your risk of spreading HIV to others.Treatment programs can help people stop using drugs or alcohol. Find a treatment facility near you or call 1-800-662-HELP (1-800-662-4357).

If I already have HIV, can I get another kind of HIV?

Yes. This is called HIV superinfection. The new strain of HIV can replace the original strain or remain along with the original strain. The effects of superinfection differ from person to person. For some people, superinfection may cause them to get sicker faster because they become infected with a new strain of the virus that is resistant to the medicines they are currently taking to treat their original HIV infection. Research suggests that the kind of superinfection where a person becomes infected with a new strain of HIV that is hard to treat is rare, less than 4%.

Is the risk of HIV different for different people?

Although HIV risk factors and routes of transmission apply to everyone equally, some people are at higher risk because of where they live and who their sex partners are.

The percentage of people living with HIV (prevalence) is higher in major metropolitan areas, so people who live there are more likely to encounter an HIV-positive person among their possible sex partners. (This atlas shows the prevalence of HIV for all U.S. communities.) In the same way, because the prevalence of HIV is higher among gay and bisexual men and among black and Latino men and women, members of these groups are more likely to encounter partners who are living with HIV.

Can I take medicines to prevent getting HIV?

Pre-exposure prophylaxis prophylaxis, or PrEP, can lower the risk of getting HIV by taking a pill every day. It is for people who do not have HIV but who are at substantial risk of getting it.

CDC recommends that PrEP be considered for people who are HIV-negative and at substantial risk for HIV.

For sexual transmission, this includes anyone who is in an ongoing relationship with an HIV-positive partner. It also includes anyone who 1) is not in a mutually monogamous* relationship with a partner who recently tested HIV-negative, and 2) is

  • a gay or bisexual man who has had anal sex without a condom or been diagnosed with an STD in the past 6 months; or
  • a heterosexual man or woman who does not regularly use condoms during sex with partners of unknown HIV status who are at substantial risk of HIV infection (e.g., people who inject drugs or have bisexual male partners).

For people who inject drugs, this includes those who have injected illicit drugs in the past 6 months and who have shared equipment or been in drug treatment for injection drug use in the past 6 months.

For heterosexual couples where one partner has HIV and the other does not, PrEP is one of several options to protect the uninfected partner during conception and pregnancy.

People who use PrEP must be willing to take the drug every day and to return to their provider every 3 months for a repeat HIV test, prescription refills, and follow-up.

Some people on PrEP may have side effects like an upset stomach or loss of appetite but these are mild and usually go away in the first month.

* Mutually monogamous means that you and your partner only have sex with each other and do not have sex outside the relationship.

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Find an HIV testing site near you.

Text your ZIP code to KNOWIT (566948)
or call 800-CDC-INFO (800-232-4636).

Latino gay and bisexual men take action against HIV. We're staying connected and informed. We get tested.