Serostatus is a word used to describe whether particular antibodies are present in the body. Seropositive means someone does have the antibodies being tested for, seronegative means they do not. If someone is seropositive for HIV (the Human Immunodeficiency Virus), it means their body has been producing antibodies for HIV, which can be detected with an HIV antibody test, the most common type of HIV test used.
Seroconversion is the point at which the body changes from being seronegative to seropositive. Once the virus is in the body, the immune system will begin producing antibodies. It takes most people two to eight weeks to seroconvert; though, for a few people, it can take up to six months—this is called “the window period.” If an HIV antibody test is done before seroconversion, it can come back negative. It is possible to transmit HIV to another person even before seroconversion takes place. During the seroconversion process, a person may experience flu-like symptoms.
If two people in a relationship, sexual or romantic, have different HIV statuses, they are referred to as serodiscordant. If two partners have the same status, they are referred to as seroconcordant. Serodiscordant couples can take steps to reduce, but not eliminate the risk of transmitted HIV to the uninfected partner. If both partners are infected, they should also take steps to reduce the risk of re-infecting each other and passing new strains to each other.
Risk of Transmission in Pregnancy
The CDC currently recommends that all pregnant women be tested for HIV. If a woman has HIV, she can still become pregnant and give birth. It is possible for a woman to transmit HIV to her baby during pregnancy or delivery, or by breast feeding, but current HIV treatments have greatly reduced the risk of transmission in pregnancy and delivery to approximately two percent. If you are pregnant, it is important to see your doctor regularly.
Transmission Prior to Pregnancy
For serodiscordant couples, where the male partner is HIV positive and the female partner is not, it is possible to reduce the risk of transmission while still conceiving a child. The Bedford Research Foundation Clinical Laboratory offers the Special Program of Assisted Reproduction. This process takes semen samples with undetectable amounts of the HIV virus, "washes" them, and then uses the semen for in-vitro fertilization (IVF).
The best way to reduce your risk of getting HIV is by abstaining from all oral, anal or vaginal sex or any sexual activity where blood, semen or vaginal fluids could be exchanged. If you do engage in sexual activity, you can reduce your risk by using latex or polyurethane condoms or barriers each time you have sex. If you use injection drugs of any kind, you should not share needles or "works" and should always disinfect your needles. Remember that HIV is transmitted through blood, semen, vaginal fluids and breast milk. To reduce your risk of HIV infection, you should avoid contact with these fluids.