What is HIV and how is it different than AIDS?

HIV (Human Immunodeficiency Virus) is the virus that can cause AIDS (Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome). HIV is a virus that breaks down certain cells in your immune system, which is your body’s defense against infections and other viruses. HIV is not the same as AIDS; someone can have HIV, but not have AIDS.

HIV damages the immune system making it harder for the body to fight off illness and infection. AIDS is the disease that is caused by the damage that HIV does to cells of the immune system and eventually leads to death.

HIV Symptoms

People who are infected with HIV may not show any symptoms for years, so they may not know that they’re infected.

HIV Treatment

Without any treatment, HIV leads to AIDS in about ten years. However, there are very effective treatments available that can slow the damage done by the virus and significantly reduce the risk of transmission to partners. HIV positive individuals can live long and healthy lives with the treatments that are now available. For people who are at higher risk of acquiring HIV (like men who have sex with men or those who have an HIV positive partner), there is a medication that can help lower your chances of getting HIV by over 90%. You can ask your provider about PrEP or Truvada.

If you are having symptoms of infection or if you were notified that one of your partners tested positive, we recommend being seen as soon as possible to receive an accurate diagnosis and treatment. Looking for testing in your area? We serve anyone residing in or visiting south-central Montana, and our visit fees are based on patient income and household size.

Frequently Asked Questions about HIV Testing


If you have just found out that you have a sexually transmitted infection (STI), you are not alone. Bridgercare can help you identify the best resources for treatment.

HIV is carried in the blood, semen, vaginal fluids, and breast milk. You can get HIV by having unprotected sex, sharing injection drug needles, get stuck with a needle that has HIV in it, or getting HIV-infected fluids into an open sore or cut on your body. About 1 million people in the US are infected with HIV, and most new infections are caused by unprotected sex.

Bridgercare has rapid-HIV tests that are resulted in 15 minutes, which requires a drop of blood from a finger stick. This test is accurate 6 weeks after potential exposure. There is also a blood-draw test that may be recommended based on risk factors.

HIV infection can be prevented by the use of condoms and dental dams, and never sharing needles.