What you need to know about HIV/AIDS
HIV stands for Human Immunodeficiency Virus, which is the virus that causes AIDS (Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome).
The virus attacks the body's immune system, which is your defense against infections.
What is HIV/AIDS?
How HIV/AIDS is spread
- The virus is spread from an infected person to someone else when there is an exchange of body fluids such as blood, semen, or vaginal fluids.
- This can occur during sexual intercourse, or when needles are shared. A pregnant woman can infect her baby at the time of birth, and afterward during breastfeeding. Pregnant women should ask for an HIV test.
- HIV is not spread by everyday social contact. Touching, hugging and shaking hands with an infected person is safe. Insects and pets cannot spread HIV.
- Some people worry that they can get HIV by donating blood, but this is not true. A new, clean needle is used every time.
- Donated blood is always checked for HIV so the chances of getting it from a blood transfusion are also very, very low.
How to tell if you have HIV
- A simple blood test can tell if you are infected with HIV. It is called the HIV antibody test.
- A positive test result means that you have been infected with HIV, and that you can spread it to others.
- A negative result means that no antibodies to HIV were found in your blood at the time of testing. Most positive tests will show up at three months, but HIV antibodies can take as long as six months to develop, so you need to get tested again to be sure you don't have the virus.
- AIDS is the last stage of HIV infection. Infected people may get infections such as an unusual type of pneumonia, or develop skin cancer or other types of cancers.
How to lower the chances of being infected with HIV
- You can avoid HIV by not having sex at all, or by making sure that you protect yourself by always practicing "safer" sex.
- You should discuss HIV with your partner, and have sex only with a partner who agrees to protect both of you by using a latex condom.
- Avoid using any instruments that pierce the skin unless you are sure they have been sterilized.
- Do not share personal items such as razors and toothbrushes.
If you think you may be infected...
- If you have taken chances, and are worried that you might be infected with HIV, please see your doctor right away, or go to an HIV testing clinic or STD clinic. The blood test for HIV will be done, and all your information will be kept private.
- If you have been exposed to HIV, then your sex partners, or anyone with whom you have shared needles and syringes must be told that they also may have been exposed to the virus. They will have to decide if they wish to be tested for HIV infection.
- You might want to tell them yourself, but if you are not comfortable, talk to your doctor or nurse -- they can help.
How HIV/AIDS is treated
There is no cure for HIV infection or for AIDS at this time. The virus remains in the body for life. Several drugs have been developed recently that may slow the progress of HIV but so far none of them is a cure. However, a great deal of progress has been made and work is still continuing.
"AIDS affects mostly gay guys. As long as I have sex with girls, I'm going to be okay."
Not true. HIV (the virus that causes AIDS) is spread by contact with an infected person of either sex. And when you have unprotected sex, you are in contact with every person your partner has had sex with. Don't take chances and always use a latex condom.