HIV/AIDS 101

Defining the Terms

AIDS - Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome is the life-threatening stage of HIV disease.

Antibody - Proteins produced by the immune system to fight infections.

HIV - Human Immunodificiency Virus is the virus that weakens the immune system and can cause AIDS.

HIV Antibody Test - A blood test that shows if a person has antibodies to fight HIV, thus implying HIV infection.

HIV Disease - The disease caused by HIV that attacks and destroys a person's immune system until it is not able to fight off infection.

HIV Transmission - When the HIV-infected blood, semen, vaginal fluids, pre-ejaculate fluid or breast milk from one person enters another's bloodstream.

Immune System - The body's defense system against infection and disease.

Opportunistic Infections - Diseases that take advantage of an immune system weakened by HIV.

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How is HIV Transmitted?

HIV is transmitted from one person to another by infected:

  • Blood
  • Semen
  • Vaginal fluids
  • Breast milk
  • Pre-Ejaculate fluid (pre cum)
You CAN get HIV from a person who is infected through:
  • Sex - having unprotected anal, vaginal or oral sex (without a condom)
  • Needles - sharing unclean needles and syringes to inject drugs, steroids or vitamins or sharing needles for body piercing, tattoos or becoming "blood brothers"
  • Mother to Child - through pregnancy, birth or breast feeding
  • Contaminated Blood Products - Before 1985 donated blood was not tested. Today all donated blood and blood products are tested for HIV.

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You CAN'T get HIV by:
  • Hugging
  • Kissing
  • Sharing food or drink
  • Touching or being around someone who is sneezing or coughing
HIV IS NOT TRANSMITTED THROUGH CASUAL CONTACT

There is no need for concern about day to day contact in the workplace, at school, from cooks, waiters or from family and friends who have HIV.

There is no evidence that shows HIV can be transmitted by saliva, tears or sweat. Urine and feces do not transmit HIV if there is no blood in them.

Health workers such as doctors, dentists, nurses and others who provide medical care wear latex gloves and masks to protect themselves and their patients from HIV and other infections. Also, they clean and sterilize instruments or use disposable ones for your protection.

REMEMBER: If infected blood, semen, vaginal fluids, pre-ejaculate fluid or breast milk do not get into your bloodstream, there is no risk of HIV infection.

Now that you have the facts about HIV/AIDS, talk to others and share what you've learned. HIV disease can be prevented. It is up to each of us to stop the spread of this disease.

If you know someone who has HIV disease or AIDS, the most important thing you can do is to be supportive and compassionate. There are many treatments and services that can help people live long and productive lives.

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Sexual Risk Reduction (Safer Sex)

How to Start

Step 1: Gather the facts and decide what safer sex means to you.

Step 2: Talk with your partner(s) about what is important to you. Whether you are with someone new or have been in a relationship, talking about sex takes practice. If you cannot comfortably talk with your partner about sex, it may be an indicator that you are not ready to engage in sexual activities.

Step 3: Tell your partner what you are willing to do and what you are not willing to do. Make decisions together.

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For Your Protection
  • When used properly, latex condoms are an effective barrier against the spread of HIV. Latex condoms are approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) as the first choice of condom to protect against sexually transmitted diseases, including HIV/AIDS, and pregnancy. While "natural membrane" (sheepskin, lambskin) condoms are not recommended because HIV may pass through them, however they can effectively prevent pregnancy.
  • Another type of male condom, made out of a type of plastic (polyurethane), can be used if you and/or your partner are allergic to latex. The risks of STDs, including HIV/AIDS, and pregnancy are not known for this type of condom.
  • Still another type of condom, the Reality Female Condom, is also made out of polyurethane and has been approved by the FDA as an effective alternative if latex condoms are not available. The Reality Condom is designed as a vaginally-inserted pouch and should not be used at the same time as a latex condom. It is possible to use the Reality Condom for anal sex, but it has not been approved for this type of usage.
  • Be a wise consumer. Be aware of condom expiration dates. Do not use expired condoms. Take the time to read the labels and instructions.
  • Use "novelty" condoms for foreplay only. These condoms might cause irritation or may break more easily and should not be used for vaginal and anal sex.
  • Store condoms in a cool, dry place. Sunlight, heat and friction will damage the condom. Condoms should not be stored in wallets or glove compartments of cars. A shirt pocket or a front pant pocket are less likely to damage a condom than a back pocket if you are carrying them with you.
  • Lubricants can be used in a variety of ways to enhance sexual pleasure and to provide added protection. Use only water-based lubricants when using a latex condom during vaginal or anal sex. When shopping for lubricants, look for water as the main ingredient and make sure it does not also contain any oil.
  • Oil-based lubricants can break down latex condoms within seconds of use. Examples of these include hand lotions, baby oil, butter, Vaseline and cooking oil.
  • Water-soluble lubricants are whipped in water so that they may wash off more easily. Some may contain oil. Some may not. Be sure to read the labels.

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Lowering the Risk

  • Use latex squares (dental dams), plastic wrap or an unlubricated condom cut in half for oral sex with a woman or for mouth to anus sex. There are a variety of flavored water-based lubricants that are available that may enhance pleasure with these acts. NOTE: The FDA has not approved any of these devices for the sexual acts mentioned.
  • Use condoms for oral sex with a man.
  • Use condoms and lubricant for vaginal or anal sex.
  • Please each other with safer activities such as massage, masturbation or body rubbing, which do not involve the exchange of blood, semen, vaginal fluids or pre-ejaculate fluid.
  • Know if you or the person you are having sex with is HIV-infected.
  • Limit the number of sexual partners.
  • Avoid the use of alcohol or recreational drugs before having sex. Drugs and alcohol may influence your decision and may reduce your ability to practice safer sex.

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How does the Virus Work?

  • Point of Infection
    A person becomes infected (Point of Infection) with HIV when HIV enters the bloodstream. The immune system reacts by producing antibodies to the virus. This reaction takes two weeks to three months in most people (but may take as long as six months). This is known as the "window period." However, as soon as a person is infected with HIV, they can transmit the virus to others.
    The HIV antibody test is a blood test that will show if a person has produced antibodies (a reaction) to HIV. This test will show a "negative" or a "positive" test result. An HIV-negative (HIV-) test result means that no antibodies have been found (no HIV infection has been found). An HIV-positive (HIV+) result means that antibodies have been found (HIV infection has been found). During the window period, the HIV antibody test may show a "negative" result because the body has not had a chance to produce antibodies. It is best to take the test about three to six months after possible infection.
  • Acute Retroviral Syndrome
    Also known as symptomatic primary HIV2 infection syndrome or acute HIV2 infection syndrome, Acute Retroviral Syndrome (ARS) usually occurs two to six weeks after point of infection. The virus is reproducing very rapidly in the body and the immune system has not yet launched an attack. CD4 cells drop as viral load increases, which may result in ARS. Symptoms*, which are not always present, are flu-like and may include the following:
    • fever or chills
    • swollen lymph nodes
    • sore throat
    • fatigue
    • weight loss
    • muscle aches
    • joint pain
    • night sweats
    • nausea/vomiting
    • diarrhea
    • pain in feet or fingers
    • headaches/stiff neck
    • sores in the mouth, genital or rectal area
    • oral thrush
    • a spotty rash on the torso
  • HIV+ Asymptomatic
    A person may be infected with HIV and not show any outward symptoms for over 10 years.
  • HIV+ Symptomatic
    A person who begins to have symptoms (Symptomatic HIV Disease) may experience severe and persistent headaches, nausea, fatigue, weight loss, diarrhea, fevers, recurrent vaginal infection, swollen glands lasting more than 2 months, thrush, night sweats or abnormal PAP smears.
  • AIDS
    The life-threatening stage of HIV disease. It is the diagnosis given to someone whose immune system has become so damaged that certain diseases (opportunistic infections) or cancers can develop. These diseases take advantage of the opportunity of a weakened immune system.

*NOTE: not everyone with ARS has symptoms and not everyone with these symptoms has ARS.

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AIDS Defining Conditions

Below is a list of AIDS Defining Conditions as determined by the Centers for Disease Control in its 1993 AIDS Surveillance Case Definition. Assuming that a person is HIV-positive, that person would be diagnosed with AIDS if he/she had one or more of the following:

  • Candidiasis of bronchi, trachea, or lungs
  • Candidiasis, esophageal
  • CD4 lymphocyte counts below 200, or a CD4 percent of total lymphocytes less than 14 if the absolute count is not available
  • Cervical cancer, invasive
  • Coccidiomycosis, disseminated or extrapulmonary (Valley Fever)
  • Cryptococcosis, extrapulmonary
  • Cryptosporidiosis, chronic intestinal (>1 month duration)
  • Cytomegalovirus disease (CMV); other than liver, spleen or nodes
  • Cytomegalovirus retinitis (with loss of vision)
  • HIV encephalopathy
  • Herpes simplex: chronic ulcer(s) (>1 month duration); or bronchitis, pneumonitis, or esophagitis
  • Histoplasmosis, disseminated or extrapulmonary
  • Isosporiasis, chronic intestinal (>1 month duration)
  • Kaposi's Sarcoma (KS)
  • Lymphoma, Burkitt's (or equivalent term)
  • Lymphoma, immunoblastic (or equivalent term)
  • Lymphoma, primary in brain
  • Mycobacterium avium complex (MAC) or M. kansasii, disseminated or extrapulmonary
  • Mycobacterium tuberculosis, any site (pulmonary or extrapulmonary)
  • Mycobacterium, other species or unidentified species, disseminated or extrapulmonary
  • Pneumocystis carinii pneumonia (PCP)
  • Pneumonia, recurrent
  • Progressive multifocal leukoencephalopathy (PML)
  • Salmonella septicemia, recurrent
  • Toxoplasmosis of brain
  • Wasting syndrome due to HIV

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How do I find out if I have HIV?

Take an HIV test. This is a very personal decision. If you feel you may have taken part in activities that have put you at risk, you may want to consider taking the test. The test should be taken thre to six months after the last time you may have been at risk. Since you can be infected with HIV and look well and feel healthy for years, the only way to know for sure if you are infected is by taking the HIV antibody test.

Click here to locate a testing site near you.

The importance of knowing if you have HIV is getting early medical treatment, learning all you can about HIV disease and protecting yourself and others. Because there are many new drugs and treatments available, people are living longer and healthier lives with HIV/AIDS.

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