Human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) is the virus that causes AIDS (acquired immunodeficiency syndrome). HIV attacks the immune system and, unlike many other viruses, the body cannot rid itself of HIV.

The HIV virus is spread through body fluids: blood, semen, vaginal fluids and breast milk.

HIV is now considered a manageable chronic disease. Knowing whether or not you have HIV can help you get treatment and prevent you from spreading the virus to your sex partners.

Snohomish County HIV/AIDS Resources

The Snohomish County Health Department provides education and prevention programs to help you understand and reduce your risks of getting HIV. Our services include:

  • Confidential and anonymous HIV testing
  • Free condoms, lubricants, and oral sex barriers
  • Sexual health and disease prevention education
  • Referrals to additional services
  • Partner counseling
  • Outreach to local medical providers
  • Referrals for Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis (PrEP) - medicine you can take to prevent HIV infection if you are at high risk
  • Screening for health care facility staff, firefighters, health care providers, law enforcement, funeral directors, embalmers, medical and dental students who may have been exposed to HIV through blood or body fluids (known as "substantial exposure screening")
  • Preventing HIV infection

Today, HIV is more preventable than ever. Prevention techniques include limiting the number of sexual partners, using clean needles and syringes, and using condoms correctly and consistently. You should also know your health status, as having gonorrhea or syphilis makes you more susceptible to HIV as well as more likely to pass on the disease.

How HIV is spread 

The most common ways that HIV is transmitted from one person to another are:

  • Sex without a condom or other barrier (anal, vaginal, or oral) with an HIV-infected person
  • Sharing needles or injection equipment with an injection drug user who is infected with HIV
  • From HIV-infected women to their babies before or during birth, or through breastfeeding after birth.
  • A blood transfusion or clotting factor (this risk is extremely low because of careful testing in the U.S. of blood and donated organs)

How HIV Is Not Spread

HIV cannot live for very long outside the body and it is easily killed by soap and common disinfectants such as bleach. Many misconceptions exist about how HIV is transmitted. You cannot get HIV from the following:

  • Dishes and drinking glasses
  • Donating blood
  • Food or drinking fountains
  • Hugging or casual kissing
  • Mosquitoes
  • Shaking hands
  • Toilet seats or doorknobs

Sex Partner Notification & HIV/AIDS Reporting

The Snohomish County Health Department is responsible for verifying the diagnosis and treatment of all reportable STDs, including HIV, from public and private care providers. Health care providers in Washington are required to report HIV infection, AIDS, and other STDsto local health authorities within 3 working days (in accordance with WAC 246-101). See our Disease Reporting page.

Washington State law requires that local health officers and health care providers provide partner notification assistance to persons with HIV infection (WAC 246-100-209) and establishes rules for providing such assistance (WAC 246-100-072).

For assistance in notifying spouses, sex partners, or needle-sharing partners of persons with HIV/AIDS, please contact us at 425-339-5298.