What is HIV/AIDS?
HIV stands for “Human Immunodeficiency Virus”. Let’s break that down a little bit. HIV is a virus that only infects humans. A virus only reproduces by taking over a cell in the body of it’s host. In HIV’s case, it weakens your immune system by destroying important cells that protect you from disease and infection.
HIV is a bit like other viruses, like the ones that cause the common cold or the flu. Unlike those viruses, your body cannot clear itself of HIV like it can most others. Over time, HIV attacks important cells that help your immune system to function. If enough of these cells are destroyed, your body can’t fight infections any more, which is what can lead to AIDS.
AIDS stands for Acquired Immuno Deficiency Syndrome. This is the final stage of HIV infection, and people with AIDS have badly damaged immune systems. They are at risk for a variety of infections and need medical intervention to remain healthy.
How Do You Get HIV?
HIV is located in specific bodily fluids. If any of those fluids enter your body, you can become infected. HIV lives and reproduces in many bodily fluids. Those with high enough HIV levels to infect a person include:
- Pre-seminal fluid
- Breast milk
- Vaginal fluids
- Rectal mucous
Other fluids such as sweat, saliva and urine do not contain enough HIV to infect you, unless they have blood mixed in them and you have direct contact with them.
HIV can be transmitted several ways:
- Through sexual contact – anal, oral and vaginal sex usually result in direct contact with a partner’s body fluids
- During pregnancy, childbirth & breastfeeding
- Through injection drug use – if you share needles or supplies while injecting drugs, you are in direct contact with your own blood and others.
- Less commonly, through blood transfusions or organ transplant – strict screenings have made this very uncommon today.
How Can HIV Be Prevented?
The most common way that HIV is spread is by having unprotected sex with an HIV-positive partner. There are several ways to reduce this risk of infection.
- Abstain from sex. This is the only foolproof way to avoid HIV infection.
- Talk to your partner. Encourage them to get tested with you so you both know your status before becoming sexually active.
- Use condoms every time you have anal, oral or vaginal sex. They are very effective in preventing contact with bodily fluids. Both male and female condoms work to prevent HIV infection.
- Don’t use illegal drugs
Is there a connection between HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases?
Yes. Having a sexually transmitted disease (STD) can increase a person’s risk of becoming infected with HIV, whether the STD causes open sores or breaks in the skin (e.g., syphilis, herpes) or does not cause breaks in the skin (e.g., chlamydia, gonorrhea).
If the STD infection causes irritation of the skin, breaks or sores may make it easier for HIV to enter the body during sexual contact. Even when the STD causes no breaks or open sores, the infection can stimulate an immune response in the genital area that can make HIV transmission more likely.
In addition, if an HIV-infected person also is infected with another STD, that person is three to five times more likely than other HIV-infected persons to transmit HIV through sexual contact.
Not having (abstaining from) sexual intercourse is the most effective way to avoid STDs, including HIV.
How can I get more information about AIDS?
CDC operates a free telephone service that is available 24-hour, 7 days a week. You can contact the CDC National STD and AIDS Hotlines at 1-800-342-2437. Service for Spanish-speaking audiences and the Deaf are also available.
Where can I get testing for AIDS?
Many Reproductive Health Centers throughout Pennsylvania test teens for HIV and other STDs. Click here or call 1-866-SAFETEENS to find a center near you. For teens under 18, these services are free and confidential.
(from CDC/AIDS.gov website)