hiv / Aids

HIV / AIDS - Overview

HIV/Aids is a Viral disease (treatable, but not curable)

The most STD is caused by HIV (Human Immunodeficiency Virus). It causes the part of the body that defends against disease (the immune system) to not work right. There are usually no visible symptoms during the early years of infection so it is not possible to tell if your partner has HIV unless he or she has had an HIV blood test. Also, many people with HIV look healthy and can transmit HIV.

HIV can lead to death about 10 years after being infected but there are now good treatments available.

HIV is a preventable infection. The virus is spread by sex and by sharing drugs by needles and syringes.

You can't get HIV/AIDS from casual contact. What that means is that you won't get AIDS from hugging someone, from an insect, from a restaurant worker, from swimming or from sharing a sandwich.

HIV and AIDS: In-Depth
Of all the STDs, you've probably heard the most about HIV. The bottom line is that it's preventable, but not curable. Here are some of the questions that come up the most often.

 Are HIV and AIDS the Same Thing?
Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) is the virus that leads to Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS). HIV damages cells in the immune (defense) system that fight off infections and diseases. As the virus gradually destroys these important cells, the immune system becomes less and less able to protect against illness. HIV doesn't destroy the cells quickly, and people infected with HIV may not have any signs or symptoms for many years. They will look perfectly healthy and feel perfectly healthy and may not even know they are infected unless they have an HIV antibody test.

AIDS is the last stage of HIV infection. HIV gradually destroys the part of your body that protects you against disease and infection. Once that defense system is weakened, your body is vulnerable to specific kinds of infection, such as a specific type of pneumonia, certain cancers and eye infections. Without the defense system, your body can't fight off those infections, and often these infections will kill you.

 How Do People Get Infected with HIV?
HIV is transmitted, or passed, from an infected person through blood, seminal fluid (pre-cum), semen (cum) and vaginal fluids. When someone else's body fluids get inside your body, like having unprotected sex, sharing injecting drug needles and being exposed accidentally to blood or body fluids (like in a hospital work environment), that is the way people become infected with HIV. Also, an HIV-infected mother can pass along the infection to her baby through pregnancy, childbirth or through breast-feeding.

 How Risky Is It?
Unprotected sex, or penetrative sex without a latex condom, is the main way a person gets HIV from another person. The sex can be vaginal, anal or oral. Using latex condoms helps keep your partner's blood, seminal fluid (pre-cum), semen (cum) or vaginal fluids--which are the main body fluids that contain HIV--from getting inside your body.

Even with oral sex, there should be some type of plastic or latex cover or barrier between you and your partner to keep you from his or her body fluids. Some people worry about getting HIV through kissing. Dry kissing, or just kissing on the lips with your mouth closed, is not risky. Open mouth kissing (wet kissing or French kissing) is not very risky. In fact, the only way it would be possible to get HIV is if you come into contact with blood if the person you're kissing has sores in her or his mouth or has bleeding gums. There are no documented cases of anyone getting infected with HIV through French kissing.

Some people still believe that HIV is a problem only if you're gay. This is not true. HIV is a virus that can infect ANYONE if they have unprotected sex with an infected person. Many people are infected with HIV, mainly through unprotected sex or sharing injecting drugs with an infected partner.

 What About Shooting Drugs?
Another way HIV is transmitted, or passed from an infected person to another person, is by sharing injecting drug needles or kits, works, cookers, cotton, or any other drug paraphernalia that comes into contact with blood. Sometimes people share and pass needles around as part of the drug experience, but it's an easy way to get infected. How? Blood often will come into the syringe through the needle after people stick their vein or pop their skin and inject the drug. When you share the needle and works an d they haven't been cleaned, the blood left in them will be injected into you when you shoot up. This is how people get infected. And this doesn't have to be shooting up drugs like heroin, cocaine, speed or speedballs. It could be sharing needles and work s for shooting up steroids that are sometimes used by athletes and body builders to increase their muscle mass.

If you are shooting drugs and sharing works, even if you try this only once in a while, there is a big of risk for HIV and other viral or blood-borne infections, like hepatitis B or C. (Hepatitis is a serious virus that affects your liver. The most common forms of the virus are hepatitis A, hepatitis B and hepatitis C. Hepatitis B or C can be transmitted through sexual contact or through drug use.) If you need help to stop taking drugs, call the National Drug and Alcohol Hotline for help. The number is (800) 662-4357.

There is no cure for HIV. If you are not ready to stop, don't share. If you must share, know how to clean your works.

 Cleaning your works: Making needles safe from HIV and other STDs.

The safest way to prevent transmission of hepatitis and HIV is not to use them or share them at all. But if you are going to share needles to inject drugs, you need to know how to sterilize needles between uses. Sterilizing a needle will kill any cells or viruses on the needle, making it safe to put into your body. You can sterilize needles and works with household bleach (such as Clorox).

To sterilize needles and works:

  • Get two cups or containers and fill them with water.
  • Fill the syringe with water from one container, wait 30 seconds, and discard (throw out) that container.
  • Next, empty the syringe and fill the it with bleach. Wait another 30 seconds before rinsing it out.
  • Refill the syringe with bleach another two times, waiting at least 30 seconds before rinsing it out.
  • Using the second container, fill the syringe with water several times and rinse it. This will get rid of the bleach, which can be harmful to your body.

 Tattoos and Body Piercing: What's the Truth?
Some people worry about getting HIV through body piercing or tattooing. Tattoo parlors are happy to explain what precautions they take to make sure they do not spread any diseases carried in blood, like HIV or hepatitis B or C. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that instruments that are intended to penetrate the skin, like tattooing or piercing needles, be used once, then thrown away, or thoroughly cleaned and sterilized. Some people have friends who do tattooing with pins, needles, writing pens, even knives for homemade tattoos and marks. This is not a good idea because the instruments may not be clean and sterilized. They could pass HIV or hepatitis B or C to you without you ever finding out. If you are thinking about getting a tattoo or a piercing, choose a reputable parlor or shop and let them do it safely and cleanly.

 What About Playing Sports?
If you are playing sports and someone gets hurt and begins bleeding, the game or activity should stop until the injured player is removed from the playing area. In organized sports, the player is not allowed to resume playing until the bleeding is stopped and the wound has been securely covered with a bandage. If there is blood on the playing surface, like a basketball court or wrestling mat, the team trainer will put on latex gloves and clean the area with a disinfectant. If the player gets blood on his or her uniform, the part with the blood must be changed before the player can re-enter the game.

Since it is not known who is infected with HIV and who isn't, these safety guidelines are followed to keep everyone from contact with the injured player's blood. There are no documented cases of HIV infection happening this way.

 Can HIV-infected Mothers Infect Their Unborn Babies?
An infected woman can transmit HIV to her unborn baby, but she also can cut the chance of this happening by taking special medicines while she is pregnant. But an infected mother should not breast-feed her baby because HIV can be passed through breast milk, and the infant could become infected. Women now are offered HIV tests when they go to the doctor or clinic for pregnancy tests in case they are infected and do not know it. By knowing if they are infected with HIV, moms-to-be can make the best health choices for themselves and their unborn children.

 What About People Working in the Health Field?
Hospital and emergency workers, laboratory technicians or anyone working with blood or body fluids can be at risk of infection through accidental exposure. Have you been to the dentist lately and had your teeth cleaned? Chances are the dentist or dental hygienist wore gloves on his or her hands and a visor over his or her eyes to protect them from blood spatters. This also helped protect you from coming into contact with blood if the dentist or dental hygienist had a cut or sore on his or her hand.

There are certain rules people in the health field follow to help protect themselves and their patients from accidental exposure. These are called universal precautions. Universal precautions are a way to control infection by pretending everyone's blood has HIV or hepatitis B. Universal precautions include:

  • Wearing gloves
  • Cleaning surfaces that have blood on them with a mixture of bleach and water
  • Not recapping needles
  • Disposing of needles in a sharps container
  • Wearing goggles
  • Always sterilizing equipment

 What About the Donated Blood Supply?
Before March 1985, there was no reliable test that could screen or test the blood supply of donated blood, and many people became infected through blood transfusions and the use of blood products like those used by hemophiliacs. But the blood supply in the United States now is screened and all suspicious blood is destroyed, so people can get blood transfusions and not worry.

Some people worry about getting infected by donating blood, but there has never been any risk of infection by donating. When you donate blood, a sterile disposable needle is used to collect your blood, and then the needle is destroyed.

 How Is HIV NOT Transmitted?
HIV is not transmitted or passed through insect or mosquito bites, or pets. The H in HIV stands for "human," and this virus is passed through an infected human's body fluids--blood, seminal fluid (pre-cum), semen (cum), breast milk or vaginal fluids--to another human. HIV is not passed through sharing food or drinking after someone that's infected. You can hug, kiss and touch someone with HIV and not worry about getting infected. You can swim in public swimming pools and not be concerned about being accidentally infected, or use a public bathroom or telephone, or share a towel with someone. Those are not ways HIV is transmitted. HIV is a fragile virus that does not live long outside the body. HIV is not spread through the air or food.

 How Do You Know If You Have HIV?
Well, you can't tell just by looking, and you can't rely on symptoms. The only way to know for sure is by testing for it. There are special tests used to tell if the HIV antibody is in your blood or saliva. While the HIV test can pick up on antibodies (the special cells in your immune system that indicate you've been infected with HIV) in salvia, you cannot get HIV by kissing someone. The virus is not strong enough in salvia to infect another person. HIV is transmitted, or passed, from an infected person through blood, seminal fluid (pre-cum), semen (cum) and vaginal fluids only. Many places offer an HIV test, like public health departments, hospitals, Planned Parenthoods, community health clinics, doctors' offices, and even student health centers on some college campuses. If you are thinking about getting an HIV test, choose a test site that offers pre- and post-test counseling. This is important because there is a lot of information to talk about before you take an HIV test.

Test counselors are specially trained people who talk with you about why you may think you are at risk of having HIV, and they will explain the testing procedure to you before you take the test. When its time to get your test results, they will talk with you some more about the results. If it's a negative test result, counselors will tell you what you can do to stay HIV negative. They may talk about other STDs and will explain how to practice safer sex, or answer any questions you may have.

 When Should You Take an HIV Test?
For the most accurate results, take the test six months after the last time you were at risk of being infected. This would mean six months after the last time you had unprotected sex, shared an injecting drug needle, or got another persons blood, seminal fluid (pre-cum), semen (cum) or vaginal fluids inside your body.

 Why Should I Wait Six Months?
It does seem like a long time, but most people will develop antibodies, or the special cells in your immune system that indicate you've been infected with HIV, within six months after becoming infected. And what the HIV antibody test looks for is a sign that your body is producing those special antibodies.

Some people may develop them sooner than that, but to be sure, wait six months to get tested. In the meantime, if you are having sex, make sure to use latex condoms from start to finish every time you have sex, and do not share any drug needles. Remember: One negative test result doesn't mean you will always be safe or protected.

 What Happens If Your Test Result Is Positive?
A positive test result means HIV is present in your body. And the good news is that there are many effective medicines now available that can help you stay healthy for a long, long time. But, you must take care of your health, and learn as much about HIV and staying healthy as you can.

There is no cure for HIV, nor is there a vaccine to keep you from getting HIV. And, even though treatments and medicines are far better than they were 15 years ago, AIDS is still a fatal disease. This means most people with HIV who develop AIDS will most likely die from it.

 How Do You Prevent HIV From Infecting You?
Since there is no cure, the best things to do is prevent it from being transmitted, or passed, to you are to:

  • not have sex (be abstinent)
  • not shoot drugs
  • not share injecting drug needles
  • talk with your partner or partners about why it is important to use latex condoms during sex
  • use latex condoms the right way every time you have sex
  • limit your number of sex partners
  • learn to clean your works the right way if you shoot drugs
  • get tested if you've had unprotected sex, then use latex condoms for all sex after that
  • If you are not having sex with someone else and are not shooting drugs, then you're probably safe. The important thing to remember is that as long as you keep someone else's blood, seminal fluid (pre-cum), semen (cum) and vaginal fluids from getting inside your body, you are safe. You know you are protected.
  • If you are sexually active, use latex condoms every time you have sex, and use them the right way from start to finish. Remember that HIV is passed through the body fluids of blood, seminal fluid (pre-cum), semen (cum) and vaginal fluids, and unprotected sex makes it very likely that you will get one of these fluids inside your body. Other types of birth control, like the birth control pill or spermicides alone, will not protect you against HIV. And latex condoms can break if they are not used the right way. They will also break if you use oil, lotion or petroleum jelly as a lubricant.

Using latex condoms every time you have sex also reduces the risk of getting other STDs besides HIV. This is important because STD infection sometimes causes irritation of the skin, and breaks or sores may make it easier for HIV to enter the body during sexual contact. Using latex condoms helps prevent your partner's body fluids from getting inside your body, and that reduces your risk. Limit the number of sex partners you have since your risk of getting infected goes up with a greater number of partners. Remember to use latex condoms to help reduce your risk of getting an STD or HIV. If you've been having unprotected sex, think about getting tested for all STDs and HIV. Start using latex condoms the right way every time you have sex to help reduce the risk of getting an STD or HIV.
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