10 Facts About AIDS and HIV Infection
If you're not quite sure what's up with AIDS these days, don't feel alone. Misconceptions and falsehoods concerning AIDS and HIV abound. The following facts from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) can help you learn more about the disease and its virus, and what you can do to protect yourself.
1. AIDS stands for acquired immune deficiency syndrome, a condition in which the body's immune system is slowly but ultimately destroyed.
2. AIDS is caused by infection with the human immunodeficiency virus, or HIV. Infection with HIV is preventable.
3. HIV is spread through contact with blood and intimate body fluids from a person infected with the virus. This contact comes primarily through sexual relations, needle or syringe sharing, and transfusions of infected blood or blood clotting factors. A pregnant woman can also pass on the virus to her unborn child. An infected woman who is breast-feeding can also pass the virus on to the infant. There is no evidence of HIV transmission through insects, saliva, tears or sweat.
4. You can protect yourself almost completely from HIV infection by correctly using latex condoms every time you have vaginal, anal or oral sex. (You don't need protection if you are in a committed monogamous relationship with someone who you are sure is not HIV-positive.) You can also protect yourself by not sharing needles.
5. HIV isn't spread through casual contact. You can't get HIV by shaking hands, hugging or sharing restrooms, equipment, food utensils or drinking fountains.
6. Medical tests detect antibodies to HIV. These antibodies, found in the bloodstream, are the immune system's attempt to eliminate the virus. Antibodies can be detected about six to 12 weeks after infection with HIV. When antibodies are present in someone's blood, that person is said to be "HIV-positive," which means he or she is infected with the virus. The most common test is a blood test called enzyme immunoassay (EIA). A positive EIA test must be confirmed with a test such as a Western blot. EIA tests can be used to test saliva and urine, as well as blood. You can also test yourself at home. The home test kit, which collects a sample of your blood from a finger prick, is available from pharmacies.
7. Most HIV-positive people live normal, active lives for some years after infection. Not everyone who is HIV-positive develops AIDS, the most advanced stages of HIV infection, but most people do. For many HIV-positive people, symptoms serious enough to constitute an AIDS diagnosis begin to appear eight to 10 years after infection. In AIDS, the immune system is so damaged by HIV that the body cannot fight off infections with common bacteria, viruses, fungi, parasites and other microbes that generally do not affect healthy people.
8. The epidemic affects people of all ages, races and sexual preferences. According to 2007 statistics from the CDC and NIAID, the largest group of people with HIV/AIDS are men who have sex with men, followed by adults and adolescents infected through heterosexual contact. The epidemic is growing most rapidly among minority populations. It is a leading killer of African American males ages 13 to 24. AIDS affects nearly 10 times more African Americans and three times more Hispanic Americans than whites. In recent years, an increasing number of African American women and children have been affected by HIV/AIDS.
9. Assessing and taking responsibility for your behavior and educating yourself about HIV and AIDS are the keys to protecting yourself and your partners from HIV infection.
10. There's no cure for AIDS, but new medications such as protease inhibitors can significantly slow the progression of the disease.
For more information, visit the CDC's website on AIDS/HIV.