HIV Basics

HIV stands for human immunodeficiency virus. It is the virus that can lead to acquired immunodeficiency syndrome or AIDS if not treated. Unlike some other viruses, the human body can't get rid of HIV completely, even with treatment. So once you get HIV, you have it for life.

 HIV attacks the body's immune system, specifically the CD4 cells (T cells), which help the immune system fight off infections. Untreated, HIV reduces the number of CD4 cells (T cells) in the body, making the person more likely to get other infections or infection-related cancers. Over time, HIV can destroy so many of these cells that the body can't fight off infections and disease. These opportunistic infections or cancers take advantage of a very weak immune system and signal that the person has AIDS, the last stage of HIV infection.

No effective cure currently exists, but with proper medical care, HIV can be controlled. The medicine used to treat HIV is called antiretroviral therapy or ART. If taken the right way, every day, this medicine can dramatically prolong the lives of many people infected with HIV, keep them healthy, and greatly 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 live nearly as long as someone who does not have HIV.

HIV Testing

HIV testing is provided through a variety of area clinics and agencies, including Santa Barbara Neighborhood Clinics, Pacific Pride Foundation, Planned Parenthood, the County Health Care Centers (for established patients), as well as private doctors.Most sites offer sliding scale fee discounts and in some locations HIV testing is available free of charge.For more information about HIV testing locations visit GetTested .


Pre-exposure prophylaxis (or PrEP) is when people at very high risk for HIV take HIV medicines daily to lower their chances of getting infected. PrEP can stop HIV from taking hold and spreading throughout your body. It is highly effective for preventing HIV if used as prescribed, but it is much less effective when not taken consistently.

Daily PrEP reduces the risk of getting HIV from sex by more than 90%. Among people who inject drugs, it reduces the risk by more than 70%. Your risk of getting HIV from sex can be even lower if you combine PrEP with condoms and other prevention methods.

HIV Program Services

Health Care and Support Services

Comprehensive health care for individuals living with HIV and AIDS is available through the Public Health Department's Health Care Centers in Santa Barbara and Santa Maria, and through collaborating health care providers.Services include medical and dental care, medical case management, medication management, and referrals for specialty care and other needed services.

Hospice and intensive residential care services are provided to eligible individuals with HIV/AIDS.These services are offered through AIDS Housing Santa Barbara (805) 563-9990.

Financial Assistance

For clients who do not have private or other medical insurance, financial assistance may be available for HIV care and treatment.Clients may receive financial assistance with their medical services through Medicare, Medi-Cal, or the Ryan White Act.Prescription drug expenses may be covered through the AIDS Drug Assistance Program (ADAP).

Syringe Exchange Program and Nonprescription Syringe Sales

The Syringe Exchange Program (The Right Outfit) operated by the Pacific Pride Foundation provides free sterile syringes in exchange for used syringes at their Santa Barbara and Santa Maria sites.The program also provides materials and support to those who are dealing with substance dependency.For information on program days and times call (805) 963-3636 or visit .

As part of statewide efforts to reduce the spread of HIV, Hepatitis C and other blood-borne pathogens among injection drug users, the sale of syringes without a prescription is now permitted in California.An adult may purchase an unlimited number of syringes without a prescription from a licensed pharmacy. For additional information on Nonprescription Sale of Syringes and Syringe Disposal click here .

Community Involvement/HIV Prevention and Care Council

Local HIV/AIDS prevention and care strategies are developed through a community planning committee known as the HIV Prevention and Care Council (HPCC).The HPCC is made up of representatives from the Santa Barbara County Public Health Department, non-profit agencies, service providers, and community members.

HPCC meetings are open to the public and people infected with or affected by HIV are encouraged to attend.The HPCC meets quarterly from 12-1:30 pm on the 2nd Wednesdays in January, April, July and October. The meetings are held alternatively between Santa Barbara and Santa Maria.Please call (805) 346-8433 for exact meeting locations.

If you are interested in becoming a member of the HPCC call (805) 346-8433.Copies of meeting minutes and agendas are available upon request.