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General Information

What is HIV/AIDS?

HIV is a sexually transmitted disease (STD). It is the Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV), the virus that causes AIDS.

HIV weakens the immune system and allows certain infections and cancers to take hold. When this happens, the person develops AIDS (Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome). A syndrome is a group of symptoms, which is why AIDS doesn't make everyone sick in the same way. There are basically four different types of illness that people may get when they have AIDS - cancer, fungus, pneumonia and viral infections.

A person infected with HIV (HIV positive) carries the virus for the rest of their lives. The virus is carried primarily in their blood and semen or vaginal fluids.

To date, there is no cure for HIV, though there are drugs that can help treat the symptoms and illnesses associated with it.

AIDS ultimately causes death.

HIV/AIDS is a worldwide epidemic.

HIV/AIDS does not discriminate. It affects people of all ages, genders, sexual orientations, and races.


How is it Spread?

During sex with a person, male or female, who has HIV. This includes vaginal, anal, or oral sex.

By sharing needles with a person who has HIV. This includes shooting drugs or steriods, or getting a tattoo with a used needle.

Direct blood to blood contact, such as blood from a person with HIV entering the bloodstream of another person through an open cut.

From an infected mother to her baby. This can happen before and during birth, as well as after birth through breast-feeding.

Prior to 1985, some people were exposed to HIV from blood transfusions. Since 1985, the blood supply has been tested for HIV. There is no risk to giving blood.

HIV is not transmitted through casual contact, such as touching someone with AIDS, sharing food, swimming in pools or hot tubs or using public facilities. There are no known cases of HIV transmitted by casual contact. Mosquitoes do not transmit HIV.


What Are the Symptoms?

The symptoms are swollen lymph glands, fever, night sweats, severe fatigue, weight loss, white spots in the mouth, and diarrhea.

It is very important to note that a person infected with HIV can look and feel fine. An infected person may have no idea that (s)he has HIV. You can not tell by looking at someone whether or not (s)he is infected with HIV.


How is HIV/AIDS Diagnosed?

HIV is diagnosed through a blood test. There is no test for AIDS. There is a test to see if someone has antibodies for HIV in their body. If they test negative to the antibodies, they are said to be "seronegative", or "HIV negative". If they test positive for the antibodies, they are said to be "seropositive", or "HIV positive".

People who are seronegative may have the virus, but have not yet developed antibodies. Doctors estimate that the time from infection with the virus to antibody development may range from weeks to months. This concept is complicated, but it demonstrates how difficult it is to know if a partner is not infected, or "safe".

Being seropositive, or HIV positive, is different from having AIDS. We do not know yet how many people who are infected with HIV will become sick with AIDS. Some experts think all people infected with HIV will eventually become sick with AIDS.


HIV Infection and Other STDs: What is the Difference?


  • Infected person may not know (s)he is infected and in turn infects others.
  • Spread through sexual intercourse.
  • Can reduce risk by abstaining or using condoms.
  • Affects all groups of people.
  • Can be avoided by abstinence or safer sex.


  • Usually fatal after 3 symptoms appear.
  • HIV can be spread by exchange of blood.
  • Currently there is no cure for HIV.


HIV/AIDS: Myths vs. Reality

Myth HIV or AIDS can be cured.
Reality To date, there is no cure for HIV or AIDS and there are no vaccines to prevent HIV infection.
Myth HIV/AIDS is a gay disease.
Reality Anyone can be susceptible to HIV/AIDS, regardless of their sexual orientation. Everyone is at risk of getting HIV from blood-to-blood contact, sharing needles or unsafe sex. Worldwide, HIV is spread most often through heterosexual contact.
Myth You can get HIV from breathing the air around an HlV-infected person or from hugging or holding hands with an HlV-infected person.

HIV cannot be transmitted through...

  • toilet seats or door-knob handles.
  • touching, hugging, holding hands, or cheek kissing with an HlV-infected person.
  • sharing eating utensils with an HlV-infected person.
  • mosquito bites.

HIV is transmitted through contact with an HlV-positive person's infected body fluids, such as semen, pre-ejaculate fluid, vaginal fluids, blood, or breast milk. HIV can also be transmitted through needles contaminated with HlV-infected blood, including needles used for injecting drugs, tattooing or body piercing.

Myth I can get HIV by sharing exercise equipment or playing sports with an HlV-positive person.
Reality Contact with sweat or tears has never been shown to result in transmission of HIV.
Myth You can get HIV by kissing an HlV-infected person.
Reality Casual contact through closed-mouth or "social" kissing is not a risk for transmission of HIV. Because of the theoretical potential for contact with blood during "French" or open-mouthed kissing, the CDC recommends against engaging in this activity with an infected person. However, no cases of AIDS have been attributed to any kind of kissing.
Myth You cannot get HIV if you are using birth control methods like diaphragms, cervical caps, sponges, spermicides, DepoProvera, Norplant, or the Pill.
Reality These birth control methods do not prevent the transmission of sexually transmitted diseases (STD) such as HIV. They only aim to prevent pregnancy. The surest way to prevent both pregnancy and an STD infection is through abstinence. One way people who are sexually active may prevent pregnancy and STD infection is to use a condom in combination with another form of birth control, such as a diaphragm, cervical cap, sponge, spermicide, DepoProvera, Norplant, or the Pill. Birth control products containing the spermicide nonoxynol-9 (found in most contraceptive creams, gels, suppositories, foams, films and sponges) help to prevent pregnancy but may increase the risk of HIV.
Myth I can't have more than one sexually transmitted disease (STD) at a time.
Reality A person can be infected with more than one STD. A person with an untreated STD may also be 6-10 times more likely to pass on or acquire HIV during sex. Risk for infection increases 10 to 300-fold in the presence of a genital ulcer, such as occurs in syphilis or genital herpes.
Myth There is no such thing as safer sex.
Reality Safer sex is sexual activity without penetration, or sex with a latex condom or a latex barrier (in the case of oral sex). Although safer sex can substantially reduce the sexual transmission of an STD like HIV, sexual abstinence is the surest way to prevent the sexual transmission of an STD, including HIV.
Myth Since I only have oral sex, I'm not at risk for HIV/AIDS.
Reality You can get HIV by having oral sex with a man or a woman. That is why it is important to use a latex barrier during oral, vaginal, or anal sex.
Myth I would know if a loved one or I had HIV.
Reality A person with HIV may not show any symptoms for up to 10 years. Since HIV affects each person differently, many people with HIV can look and feel healthy for years. The only sure way to know is to get tested.
Myth Getting tested for HIV is pointless.
Reality Knowing if you are HlV-positive will allow you to seek early treatment that can help you stay healthy longer and enable you not to pass on the virus to someone else. Regardless of your HIV status, you can learn how to prevent future infection from HIV or other STDs through counseling offered at many HIV testing centers.
Myth When you're on HIV therapy you can't transmit the virus to anyone else.
Reality Antiretroviral drugs don't keep you from passing the virus to others. Therapy can keep the viral load down to undetectable levels, but HIV is still present in the body and can still be transmitted to others.


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