What is AIDS?
AIDS is the Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome. It is a set of life-threatening conditions. It occurs during the last stage of HIV disease. HIV disease is caused by HIV -- the Human Immunodeficiency Virus.
How could I get HIV?
HIV is transmitted in blood, semen, breast milk, and vaginal fluids. We can get HIV if we:
- Have unprotected sexual intercourse with someone who has the virus.
- Share needles or syringes with someone who has the virus.
- Receive transfusions of blood products donated by someone who has the virus.
- Get HIV-infected blood, semen, or vaginal secretions into open wounds or sores.
- Receive tissue or organs transplanted from a donor with the virus.
- Have artificial insemination with the sperm of a man who has the virus.
- Become accidentally punctured or cut with a needle or surgical instrument contaminated with the virus.
- The virus may pass from a woman to her fetus during pregnancy or birth. Breastfeeding also may pass the virus to an infant.
What are my chances of getting HIV?
The chances are small, unless we take unnecessary risks.
How does HIV work?
HIV breaks down the immune system -- our body's shield against disease. It causes people to develop harmful infections that don't usually affect people. These are called opportunistic infections. They include a number of unusual cancers.
Some people develop symptoms shortly after being infected. For many, it takes more than 10 years.
Can you get HIV through casual contact?
- You can't get HIV by visiting, socializing, working, or going to school with someone who has it.
- You can't get HIV by being sneezed on, coughed on, or breathed on by anyone who has it.
- You can't get HIV by crying with, laughing with, sweating with, kissing, or hugging anyone who has it.
- You can't get HIV from mosquitoes or other insects.
- You can't get HIV by touching things that a person with HIV has used. Doorknobs, bed linens, clothing, towels, toilets, telephones, showers, swimming pools, eating utensils, and drinking glasses are all safe. They cannot transmit HIV.
How can I tell who has HIV?
You can't. Even if you ask, you may not learn the truth. Most people with HIV don't know they have the virus. And some people won't tell you they have it, even if they know.
Is there a test to find out if I have HIV?
The most common tests detect HIV antibodies. Detectable numbers of antibodies usually develop within six months. The average time it takes is 45 days. The tests are very accurate.
Tests are available from Planned Parenthood health centers, most physicians, hospitals, and health clinics. Local, state, and federal health departments also offer testing. Some have anonymous HIV counseling and testing sites.
You can be tested "confidentially" or "anonymously." "Confidential testing" means your test result will be put in a permanent medical record with your name on it. "Anonymous testing" means your name is not used. Anonymous testing is not available in every state. Some states require clinicians to report the names of those with HIV or AIDS to health officials.
You may want counseling before and after testing. If your clinician doesn't offer it to you, contact one of the resources at the back of this pamphlet.
Should I be tested?
Most HIV service providers encourage testing for people who may be infected. Testing may be right for you if you think that you or your sex partner(s) may be infected and:
- You want to try to slow the progress of the infection by receiving medical treatment.
- You want to become a parent.
- You and your partner know you will have no other partners for a number of years and you want to stop practicing "safer sex."
- You want to enlist in the armed forces, the Peace Corps, Job Corps, or other agency that requires testing. (If you have HIV, you cannot serve in any of these agencies.)
You may want to consider the following information about testing:
- A disclosed test result can have serious consequences. It can lead to on-the-job harassment, job loss, or cancellation of health insurance -- even if such actions are illegal.
- You must be tested for HIV if you are an immigrant. The results can change your immigration status.
- Many people feel better knowing their HIV status. On the other hand, positive results can lead to serious anxiety and distress. You may want to consider how you would handle living with HIV before taking the test.
Does HIV always cause AIDS?
Some researchers believe that a small number of people with HIV may not develop symptoms. In one 20-year study, 5 percent of men with HIV have yet to develop AIDS.
New medicines have helped many people with HIV slow down the progress of their infections.
What are the stages of HIV disease?
There are several stages of HIV disease.
1. Detectable antibodies usually develop within six months of infection. Some people have symptoms during this time. They are usually not severe. They include slight fever, headaches, fatigue, muscle aches, and swollen glands. They may last for a few weeks.
2. There are usually no symptoms for a long time after antibodies develop. The average without symptoms is 10.5 years. But the immune system and some body tissue may be badly damaged during this time.
3. The first symptom of HIV disease is often the swelling of lymph glands in the throat, armpit, or groin. It may be the only symptom for a number of years. It is called "persistent generalized lymphadenopathy."
4. Later symptoms of serious damage include:
- yeast infections that cause a white coating of the vagina, mouth, and throat (thrush)
- viral infections that affect tissue in the anus or genital area
- severe and frequent infections like herpes zoster or pelvic inflammatory disease.
5. AIDS is the final stage of HIV disease. It may take many years after HIV infection for AIDS to develop.
How is AIDS diagnosed?
Diagnosis is based on several factors, including the presence of HIV antibodies and:
- blood tests showing that the counts of white blood cells, called T lymphocytes, have fallen below 200 per milliliter or:
- the presence of one or more conditions or opportunistic infections included in the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's (CDC) definition of AIDS.
What opportunistic infections and conditions are included in the CDC's definition of AIDS?
AIDS includes a variety of viral, bacterial, fungal, and parasitic infections. It also includes certain cancers. These infections and cancers may affect the digestive, nervous, respiratory, muscular, circulatory, and lymphatic, as well as the immune systems of the body.
The following conditions are also included in the definition of AIDS:
- HIV wasting syndrome -- an involuntary loss of 10 percent or more of normal weight. It is often associated with chronic diarrhea or weakness and fever caused by HIV.
- HIV infection of the brain -- also called AIDS- or HIV-dementia or HIV-encephalopathy
- various forms of pneumonia
- cervical cancer.
The opportunistic conditions that affect children with AIDS differ slightly from those in adults.
What symptoms occur with HIV disease and AIDS?
- a thick, whitish coating of the tongue or mouth (thrush) that is caused by a yeast infection and sometimes accompanied by a sore throat
- severe or recurring vaginal yeast infections
- chronic pelvic inflammatory disease
- periods of extreme and unexplained fatigue that may be combined with headaches, lightheadedness, and/or dizziness
- rapid loss of more than 10 pounds of weight that is not due to increased physical exercise or dieting
- bruising more easily than normal
- long-lasting occurrences of diarrhea
- recurring fevers and/or night sweats
- swelling or hardening of glands located in the throat, armpit, or groin
- periods of continued, deep, dry coughing
- increasing shortness of breath
- the appearance of discolored or purplish growths on the skin or inside the mouth
- unexplained bleeding from growths on the skin, from mucus membranes, or from any opening in the body
- recurring or unusual skin rashes
- severe numbness or pain in the hands or feet, the loss of muscle control and reflex, paralysis or loss of muscular strength
- an altered state of consciousness, personality change, or mental deterioration.
Such symptoms are often unrelated to HIV disease. In fact, when symptoms of HIV disease appear in women, they are often mistaken for those of less serious conditions. Consult your clinician if any of these symptoms persist.
- HIV is the most deadly sexually transmitted infection. Sex partners who want to avoid HIV must practice "safer sex."
- "Safer-sex" activities lower our risk of exchanging blood or semen -- the body fluids most likely to spread HIV.
- Each of us must decide what risks we will take for sexual pleasure.
Here are some common sex behaviors grouped according to relative risk:
No reported cases due to these behaviors:
- Masturbation -- Mutual Masturbation
- Touching -- Massage
- Erotic Massage -- Body Rubbing
- Kissing -- Deep Kissing (no blood exchanged)
- Oral Sex on a Man with a Condom
- Oral Sex on a Woman with a Dental Dam,Plastic Wrap, or Cut-Open Condom
(Don't worry about getting vaginal secretions, menstrual flow, urine, or semen on unbroken skin away from the vulva.)
Rare reported cases due to these behaviors:
- Deep Kissing (blood exchanged)
- Oral Sex
- Vaginal Intercourse with a Condom or Vaginal Pouch
- Anal Intercourse with a Condom or Vaginal Pouch
(Try not to get semen or blood into the mouth or on broken skin.)
Millions of reported cases due to these behaviors:
- Vaginal Intercourse without a Condom
- Anal Intercourse without a Condom.
SOME OF THE DRUGS THAT ENCOURAGE TAKING RISKS WITH SEX
SOME OF THE FEELINGS THAT ENCOURAGE TAKING RISKS WITH SEX
- Desire To Be Swept Away
- Fear of Losing a Partner
- Low Self-Esteem
- Need To Be Loved
What can a pregnant woman do if she thinks she's been exposed to HIV?
She should consult a health care provider who knows about HIV disease. Fifteen to 30 percent of babies born to women with HIV are also infected. Children born with HIV often develop AIDS.
The use of the anti-viral drug AZT can reduce the risk of transmission by two-thirds. Nevertheless, pregnant women with HIV may want to consider whether or not to continue their pregnancies.
Are there medical treatments for people with HIV disease?
A variety of new medical treatments offer hope for many people with HIV. The treatments are often very expensive, however, and are not available to all people with HIV disease. Also, they do not work for about 20 percent of people who have tried them. No one knows how long these new treatments will work. While there is increasing hope for people with HIV, there is still no cure for HIV or AIDS.
What else can be done for people living with HIV?
People with HIV need positive psychological environments as much as they need the most advanced therapies. They need normal and healthy emotional lives that include:
- support of family and friends
- medical care
- access to a job
- access to social, educational, and recreational facilities
- access to places of worship.
Does everyone with AIDS die?
In the early years of the HIV epidemic, most people diagnosed with AIDS died within two years. However, some people have now lived with AIDS for more than 10 years. New treatments and increased knowledge among clinicians may help many more people live with AIDS even longer.
Who's most likely to get HIV?
Getting HIV depends on what you do, not on who you are. But some people are more likely to take risks than others. They include:
- the young -- who do not always consider the consequences of their sexual and drug decisions
- the uninformed -- who do not understand how HIV is transmitted
- the misinformed -- who wrongly believe that only gay men and drug users get AIDS, or who believe other myths like, "AIDS is God's punishment for sinners"
- the poor -- who tend to be unmarried and may have unprotected intercourse with more sex partners than those who are more economically secure and more likely to be married
- the secretive -- who believe they must hide their sexual desires or drug addictions, and who may be more likely to share high-risk behaviors with anonymous partners
- the powerless -- who are put at risk by sex partners who take advantage of them.
How can I avoid getting AIDS?
The surest way is to abstain from sexual intercourse and from sharing needles and "works" if you do steroids and other drugs.
If you choose to have sexual intercourse:
- Consider your partner's HIV status. Does your partner have other sex partners? Does your partner share needles?
- Have safer sex to reduce the risk of exchanging blood, semen, or vaginal fluids with your sex partner(s).
- Enjoy low-risk outercourse -- sex play with no intercourse.
- Use a latex condom from start to finish every time you have vaginal or anal intercourse. (Do not use oil-based lubricants with a latex condom.)
Never share needles, works, cookers, cotton, water, or other drug paraphernalia to inject drugs. Doing so puts HIV directly into the bloodstream. If you cannot stop using drugs, get into a needle-exchange program. If you can't get clean needles, be sure to disinfect the needles you use.
Don't share personal items that may be soiled with blood. This includes toothbrushes, razors, needles for piercing or tattooing, and blades for ritual cutting or scarring.
Be tested and treated for sexually transmitted infections every year. Women and men with open sores from herpes, syphilis, or chancroid are more susceptible to HIV than other people.
Stay in charge. Good judgment and self-control are the basis of safer, healthier sex. Alcohol and drugs weaken both. Don't risk losing your good judgment and self-control with alcohol or other drugs.
Can I get HIV from a blood transfusion?
All blood donations are tested for HIV antibodies. All donors are carefully screened for risk for infection. The chance of infected blood being accepted before detectable antibodies develop is rare. According to the American Red Cross, the chance of getting HIV through a blood transfusion is one out of 676,000.
Can I get HIV by donating blood?
No. Needles and syringes for collecting blood are only used once.
What should I do if I have HIV?
- Protect your sex partner(s) from HIV by following safer sex guidelines.
- Inform sex partner(s) who may also be infected.
- Do not share needles or works.
- Consult a clinician experienced in treating HIV/AIDS.
- Have the T-cell levels in your blood checked regularly.
- Get psychological support with a private therapist and/or join a support group for people with HIV.
- Get information and social and legal support from AIDS service organizations.
- Don't share your HIV status with people who do not need to know. Only tell people you can count on for support.
Maintain a strong immune system:
- Eat well.
- Get enough rest and exercise.
- Avoid illegal and recreational drugs, including alcohol and tobacco.
- Consider using anti-viral therapies that may slow the progress of the infection.
- Have regular medical checkups.
- Learn how to manage stress effectively.
What does the future hold?
The CDC reports that more than 60,000 new cases of AIDS are diagnosed each year. Heterosexuals, young people, people of color, and women have the fastest growing rates of infection. Rates are climbing more quickly in rural areas than in our big cities.
What can be done?
With no vaccine or cure, education is our only weapon against HIV. People need to understand HIV disease in order to protect themselves and help those who are already infected. People with HIV need to be empowered in their efforts to lead rewarding lives and to keep from infecting others.
What can I do?
- Enjoy safer sex whenever you decide to have sex.
- Don't do drugs if you cannot exercise proper judgement.
- Help protect your family, friends, and neighbors by making sure that they are informed about HIV and the way it is spread.
- Do everything possible to dignify the efforts made by HIV-positive friends, neighbors, or family members to live rewarding, hopeful lives.
- Volunteer some of your free time in the fight against AIDS.