Frequently Asked Questions

What do HIV and AIDS stand for?

HIV stands for Human Immunodeficiency Virus. It is the virus that attacks the body's immune system and over time, people become less able to fight off illness and diseases. AIDS stands for Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome; AIDS is the last stage of HIV disease. Doctors make an AIDS diagnosis based on a set of symptoms and conditions identified by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Is there a cure for HIV/AIDS?

No. There is NO CURE OR VACCINE for HIV infection or AIDS. Research scientists in the US and other countries are actively working toward the development of a cure. To date, no one has ever been able to cure any virus known to mankind, however, there are medications to help treat HIV.

How is HIV transmitted?

The Human Immunodeficiency Virus or HIV is spread by direct contact with infected body fluids, including blood, semen, rectal fluids, vaginal secretions, and breast milk. This means that the HIV contained in one of these body fluids must get into the bloodstream by direct entry into a vein, a break in the skin, or through the mucous linings (such as the eyes, mouth, nose, vagina, rectum, or penis). Other body fluids such as urine, saliva, vomit, etc. do not pose a risk unless visible blood is present.

Can I pass HIV to my partner if my viral load is not detected?

In short, no! UNdetectable = UNtransmittable 
The concept is simple but important and based on a foundation of scientific evidence. Individuals who take antiretroviral therapy (ART) and maintain an undetectable viral load (the amount of virus that can be detected in your blood) cannot sexually transmit the HIV virus to others. With less stigma and more treatment, we can reach our goal of ending this epidemic.

I prefer sex without a condom, so I don't always use them. Would PrEP still work to prevent HIV if I don't use condoms?

Individuals living with HIV who are taking HIV treatment consistently and have an undetectable viral load for at least 6 months cannot transmit the virus to an HIV-negative partner through sexual activity. In sero-discordant or magnetic couples (one person is living with HIV and the other not living with HIV), PrEP may be used by the HIV-negative partner for additional protection.

What are the symptoms of HIV?

HIV: HIV often doesn’t have any symptoms but some people initially experience symptoms that feel like a cold or the flu. These symptoms can include a fever, achiness, and a sore throat.

Should I get tested?

Everyone has an HIV status, but not everyone knows what it is. There are many options available for those living with HIV and the sooner you know your status, the more options will be available. If you or your partner has been at risk, we encourage you to consider testing. Weekly walk-in testing hours are available in our Albany & Schenectady offices.

If you test negative, you may want to consider HIV Prevention methods to make sure that you stay negative. Our test staff will make sure you get this information.

How much does testing cost?

NOTHING! If you are concerned, are experiencing symptoms, or have been in contact with someone who has symptoms or a diagnosis, get tested. We encourage ALL to use our weekly walk-in testing hours in our Albany & Schenectady offices.

How long does it take to get results?

HIV, Syphilis, & Hepatitis C rapid test results will be ready the same day as the test.

STI test results take less than one week.

How soon after exposure should I get tested?

You can get an accurate test reading as soon as four weeks after exposure, but it may take as long as three months after each risk exposure to know for sure if you have HIV. For some people, regular testing is part of their routine sexual health care. Bottom line - we recommend that anyone at risk for contracting HIV should be tested every 3-6 months.

If you test negative, you may want to consider HIV Prevention methods to make sure that you stay negative. Our test staff will make sure you get this information.

What do you mean by confidential testing?

An individual's name is given to the tester and the test result is entered into the person's medical record. New York State law protects the confidentiality of all HIV-related information. At confidential testing sites like AFPH, pre-and post-test counseling is also offered.

Will my information be confidential?

Maintaining client confidentiality is a core value of the Alliance for Positive Health. Safe housing and good health care is a partnership, so we will need some releases of information in order for you to be enrolled in the program.

Where can I go to get tested?

For both anonymous and confidential testing sites check the Alliance for Positive Health Testing Calendar or the Department of Health's website, or call: 1-800-541-AIDS
800 872-2777 (New York State HIV Counseling Hotline)
800 233-SIDA (Estado Nueva York-en Español)
800 369-2437 (TDD for the Deaf)
800 232-4636 (CDC National AIDS Hotline)

How do I know whether or not I've already been tested for HIV?

If you don't know, chances are you have NOT been tested. You need to give specific consent to be tested for HIV in New York State. The only exceptions to this rule in NYS are federal prison inmates, individuals indicted and/or convicted of sexual assault (special circumstances may apply), people entering the military or Peace Corps, newborn babies, and mothers presenting in labor and delivery without an HIV test on record.

What happens when I get tested?

Our staff will ask you about your health and answer any questions you have.

You’ll give a blood or urine sample, throat or rectal swab, or have a finger prick. You can decide which type of testing you receive once we review all of your risk factors during the consultation. 

If you have a positive or abnormal STI/STD (Gonorrhea, Chlamydia, HIV, Hepatitis C, or Syphilis) test result, we will link you to local treatment options. Remember, when caught early ALL STI/STD’s are treatable! 

For HIV and Hepatitis C testing, you’ll receive your preliminary results in person within 20 minutes. If you test positive for HIV or hepatitis C, we will highly recommend a comprehensive blood test to rule out any false positive results. In between the blood draw and your results (which could take up to a week) we will immediately begin discussing a treatment plan.

What are the tests like?

HIV, Hepatitis C: a quick finger prick
Gonorrhea & Chlamydia screening: urine, throat, and rectum
Syphilis: a quick finger prick and/or a simple blood

What are the symptoms of Hepatitis C?

Hepatitis C: The only way to know if you have Hepatitis C is to get tested.

What are the symptoms of STI’s

Gonorrhea: pain when you go to the bathroom, unusual discharge from your penis or vagina, vaginal bleeding between your periods

Chlamydia: pain during sex, abdominal or lower back pain, burning when you urinate, discharge from your penis or vagina

Syphilis: one or many sores, usually on the genitals, mouth, or anus, skin rash on your hands, feet, abdomen, chest, or back. Syphilis has four stages. It is important to treat syphilis as early as possible. When syphilis is left untreated, it can have long-term effects.

Trichomoniasis: vaginal discharge, vaginal itching, painful urination in women

Bacterial vaginosis, candida, or yeast infection complaints that are not STIs/STDs might include: abnormal vaginal discharge (white, yellow, or green), vaginal odor, vaginal itching, irritation, or burning, burning or discomfort during urination, lower abdominal pain

How can I reduce my risk of getting HIV?

There are many ways to reduce your risk of contracting HIV. The basic rules dictate that you avoid swapping bodily fluids; blood, secretions (anal and vaginal), and semen. You should also avoid behaviors that make you more prone to take risks such as drug and alcohol use (especially using needles).

What is PrEP?

PrEP is a new and emerging HIV prevention intervention in which high-risk HIV-negative individuals take an antiretroviral (ARV) to reduce their individual risk of acquiring HIV.

PrEP is one pill, once a day. There is currently one medication FDA-approved for this purpose – Truvada. Truvada was approved for HIV treatment in 2004 and for prevention in 2012.

PrEP is a powerful HIV prevention tool and can be combined with condoms and other prevention methods to provide even greater protection than when used alone. People who use PrEP must commit to taking the drug daily and seeing their health care provider every 3 months for HIV testing and other follow-ups.

Some private physicians are not yet prescribing PrEP. The Alliance for Positive Health can help interested individuals find the information to make a decision, and navigate the systems including how to talk with their doctors about PrEP. For additional facts about PrEP, visit the Department of Health.

How well does PrEP work?

The PrEP medication works very well at preventing a person from getting HIV. Everyone taking PrEP should be sure to take the medication as agreed upon with the healthcare provider, but it is especially important for cis-gender women and transgender men who engage in vaginal intercourse to take it consistently each day to be fully protected during receptive vaginal intercourse. The more days a person misses a dose, the less protective the medication will be for any exposures that occur during that time period. If you are interested in more specific data regarding how well PrEP works, below is a list of links to the major clinical trials.

Can I get the PrEP medication from my regular healthcare provider, or do I have to go to a special doctor?

It depends on your doctor. Any physician, nurse practitioner, or physician assistant can prescribe PrEP. It is important to have a healthcare provider you can work with to individualize PrEP to your needs and circumstances. Not all healthcare facilities are prepared to administer long-acting injectable PrEP. The New York State Department of Health has prepared a directory of healthcare providers who prescribe PrEP, which can be found here

What are the side effects of the PrEP medications?

All three approved medications, Truvada, Descovy, and Cabotegravir, are recognized as well-tolerated medications with few side effects. In clinical trials, only a small number of people found the side effects serious enough to stop taking the medication. People taking PrEP should discuss any side effects they experience with their healthcare provider. In many cases, side effects are only short term and can be managed. Two important health issues related to taking PrEP include kidney function and bone density. Your healthcare provider will ask if you have a history of kidney disease and will periodically order lab work to monitor your kidney function. Bone density will be monitored as needed. The NYSDOH is aware that lawsuits claim harm to individuals taking Truvada. However, scientific evidence shows that when taken as directed, Truvada is safe and effective. Since there are risks to taking any medication, individuals should speak with their healthcare provider about the benefits, risks (side effects), and possible alternatives for every medication they choose to take in order to understand the best choices for their specific situation.

Would I have to take PrEP for the rest of my life? What if I want to stop?

PrEP is not intended to be a life-long program. Rather, it is a program where the healthcare provider works with you to develop an individualized plan with as many renewals of the prescription as you and the healthcare provider agree to. For many people, life circumstances change over time and the risk for HIV may be reduced or eliminated. You should discuss the issue of how long you want to take the PrEP medication with your provider. If for any reason you want to stop taking the PrEP medication, consult with the healthcare provider who prescribed it, or another provider who is familiar with PrEP. Generally speaking, cis-gender men taking on-demand PrEP should continue taking the PrEP medication for at least 2 days after any possible exposure. Anyone taking daily PrEP should continue taking the medication for 28 days after the last possible exposure.

What is PEP?

PEP (post-exposure prophylaxis) means taking medicine to prevent HIV after a possible exposure. The sooner you start PEP, the better. Every hour counts. If you’re prescribed PEP, you’ll need to take it daily for 28 days and PEP must be taken within 72 hours after your HIV exposure.

What are the side effects of the PEP medications?

PEP can cause mild side effects, including nausea, upset stomach, fatigue and headaches. These symptoms often get better or go away after the first week of taking PEP. To prevent nausea, take PEP with a snack or before bed to make nausea less noticeable.

Is PrEP the same as PEP?

No.

PEP (Post-Exposure Prophylaxis) means taking medicine to prevent HIV after a possible exposure. The sooner you start PEP, the better. Every hour counts. If you’re prescribed PEP, you’ll need to take it daily for 28 days and PEP must be taken within 72 hours after your HIV exposure.

PrEP (Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis) is a new and emerging HIV prevention intervention in which high-risk HIV-negative individuals take an antiretroviral (ARV) to reduce their individual risk of acquiring HIV. PrEP is one pill, once a day.

Where can I access Medical Care Coordination

In each of our five locations throughout Northeastern New York.

How will Medical Care Coordination affect my current health services?

Your current health services should not be interrupted. You will not have to change medical providers or managed care programs. Your connection with Medicaid will NOT change.

How do I qualify for Medical Care Coordination

To qualify, individuals must

  • Medicaid eligible and have HIV/AIDS or, 
  • Two or more chronic conditions (e.g., Substance Use Disorder, Asthma, Diabetes, Heart Disease, High Blood Pressure, morbid obesity) or,  
  • One single qualifying chronic condition:
    • Serious Mental Illness* (Adults) or,
    • Sickle Cell Disease (both Adults and Children) or,
    • Serious Emotional Disturbance or Complex Trauma (Children)

*If an individual has HIV or SMI, they do not have to be determined to be at risk of another condition to be eligible for Health Home services. Substance use disorders (SUDS) are considered chronic conditions and do not by themselves qualify an individual for Health Home services. Individuals with SUDS must have another chronic condition to qualify.

For additional details and specific guidance, please review this document.

How do I apply for Housing Retention Services?

If you have a Care Coordinator, ask them for help with the application. If you don't have a Care Coordinator, email us and we will be in touch right away to assist.

What information is required for the Housing Retention Services application?

Once you have submitted your application, we may need to inspect your apartment or house to ensure it meets Housing and Urban Development standards, and assess the size. We may also need to obtain tax information from your landlord.

How will I know if I am approved for housing assistance?

You will receive a letter notifying you of approval or denial within two weeks of your application submission. Approvals will explain what you can expect and what your role will be. Denials will explain why you were not approved and what you may be able to do to qualify. It may just be a matter of providing additional information.

If you are in an emergency housing situation, we will move things through as quickly as possible to help avoid eviction and keep your utilities on.

Aside from assistance with bills, what else is involved?

We will regularly contact you to review your situation and budget, assist with planning ahead to ensure you can keep up with housing needs, get the required paperwork (things like proof of your portion of rent payment), and ensure that all your providers are on the same page to help you be as healthy as possible.

How do I qualify for transportation help?

You may qualify for transportation assistance if you have a current HIV+ diagnosis and are unable to access transportation assistance through your insurance provider.

What transportation do we cover?

Transportation assistance may be in the form of taxi rides, bus passes, gas cards, and in limited circumstances – bus or train tickets.

Where are transportation services available?

Transportation services are available for residents of the following counties: Albany, Clinton, Columbia, Essex, Franklin, Fulton, Greene, Hamilton, Montgomery, Rensselaer, Saratoga, Schenectady, Schoharie, Warren, and Washington.

Does Medicaid affect Transportation assistance?

Transportation funds are the “payer of last resort”. You must show proof that you have attempted all other options for assistance including Medical Transportation (MAS) without success. We will also need to know why you were denied assistance before being accepted into the program.

What if I have a lot of appointments coming up?

The more you can plan ahead, the better! Let us know what appointments you have coming up and we will plan with you to cover it all with one.

How do I obtain bus passes or gas cards?

Bus passes and gas cards are only provided to assist you to get to one of the services listed above. Two days' notice is needed for the transportation team. Call or email your Case or Care Manager to help.

We will work with you to get you the bus passes or gas cards you need. Anyone at the Alliance for Positive Health can obtain one for you after your request has been approved. If you know you will be seeing one of our team members, let us know and we will make sure they have a bus pass for you.

How do I apply for Transportation help?

If you have a Case or Care Manager, they can help you apply for the transportation program. You can also call 518-434-4686 or email [email protected]. You will need to complete an application form and provide some documentation. Any of our Program Staff are happy to assist you.

Do I need to provide any documentation?

You will be required to provide us with: verification of HIV+ status, Transportation Release of Information (must include vendor list and emergency contact information), signed Consent for Services, signed Transportation Program Client Agreement, and intake assessment .

You may also be asked to provide us with additional releases of information for providers you may use transportation for. This helps us ensure there is no interruption in transportation services.

Doctor notes will be required if you are in need of a taxi in an area that otherwise provides bus transportation. 

Is it legal to give out syringes?

It is legal for Syringe Exchange Programs (or Syringe Services Programs), Expanded Syringe Access Programs, healthcare practitioners, healthcare facilities, and Licensed Pharmacies to give out syringes without a prescription.

NYS PENAL LAW 220.45:

A person is guilty of criminally possessing a hypodermic instrument when he or she knowingly and unlawfully possesses or sells a hypodermic syringe or hypodermic needle. It shall not be a violation of this section when a person obtains and possesses a hypodermic syringe or hypodermic needle pursuant to section thirty-three hundred eighty-one of the public health law, which includes the state's syringe exchange and pharmacy and medical provider-based expanded syringe access programs.

 

NYS PENAL LAW 220.03

A person is guilty of criminal possession of a controlled substance in the seventh degree when he or she knowingly and unlawfully possesses a controlled substance; provided, however, that it shall not be a violation of this section when a person possesses a residual amount of a controlled substance and that residual amount is in or on a hypodermic syringe or hypodermic needle obtained and possessed pursuant to section thirty-three hundred eighty-one of the public health law, which includes the state's syringe exchange and pharmacy and medical provider-based expanded syringe access programs.

Won't a syringe exchange program bring a lot of needles into my neighborhood?

No, harm reduction staff provide free sharps containers and teach people how to properly dispose of used needles using puncture-resistant household containers. Most of the needles given out by our syringe exchange are brought back to the office or placed in one of our syringe kiosks located throughout our region. Most people don’t realize that syringes can be bought in local pharmacies and online without a prescription. This creates a more unsafe community, as people aren’t provided with education or containers when they obtain them this way and end up reusing syringes much more often, resulting in a higher impact on our medical system.

Doesn't giving people clean needles encourage them to use drugs?

People don’t come to a syringe exchange so they can start using drugs, the already are. Syringe exchanges teach people how to use needles safely to prevent HIV, hepatitis C, and skin and tissue infections. People who use syringe exchanges are three times more likely to reduce or stop their drug use than those who do not participate in syringe exchange services. Meeting drug users where they are is a simple yet profound act of love. When someone is used to being met with stigma and experiences acceptance exactly as they are in the syringe exchange, that is where the magic begins to happen between our staff and the participant. By building trust, we can help participants begin to make small changes to how they use, resulting in a safer drug user and in turn, a safer community.

Who can use syringe exchange?

Anyone who injects and/or uses medications or drugs can access a Syringe Exchange Program, also known as Syringe Services Program. Individuals seeking a safe place to access support or services around mental health, housing, food security, transportation, wound care, care management, and much more. Anyone who needs a safe place to land and feel safe is welcome in our syringe exchange.

Questions about overdose locations and procedures?

The AIDS Institute of New York offers this provider directory.