AIDS stands for Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome. It is thought to be caused by the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV). This virus destroys the body’s immune system, leaving the person unable to fight certain types of infection or cancer. The AIDS virus also attacks the central nervous system, causing mental and neurological problems.
The virus is carried in body fluids such as semen, vaginal secretions, breast milk and blood (including menstrual blood).
Certain activities are likely to promote contracting the AIDS virus. High-risk activities include:
- Unprotected* anal, oral and/or vaginal sex except in a monogamous relationship in which neither partner is infected with HIV. Particularly high risk situations are having sex:
- When drunk or high.
- With multiple or casual sex partners.
- With a partner who has had multiple or casual sex partners.
- With a partner who has used drugs by injection or is bisexual.
- When you or your partner has signs and symptoms of a genital tract infection.
- Sharing needles and/or “the works” when injecting any kind of drugs.
- Pregnancy and delivery if the mother is infected with HIV. This can put the child at risk.
- Having had blood transfusions, especially before 1985, unless tested negative for HIV.
Blood screening tests are also done on donated blood which makes it highly unlikely that you’d get AIDS from current blood transfusions. You cannot get AIDS from donating blood or from casual contact such as:
- Touching, holding hands or hugging.
- A cough, sneeze, tears or sweat.
- An animal or insect bite.
- A toilet seat.
- Using a hot tub or swimming.
Signs and Symptoms
- Early symptoms of AIDS:
- Loss of appetite.
- Chronic diarrhea.
- Weight loss.
- Persistent dry cough.
- Night sweats.
- Swollen lymph nodes.
Some day, a cure for AIDS may exist. For now, prevention is the only protection. Take these steps to avoid contracting the AIDS virus:
- Unless you are in a long-term, monogamous relationship, use latex condoms every time you have sex. Use latex condoms treated with or along with a spermicide containing Nonoxynol-9. (Studies suggest this spermicide may inactivate the AIDS virus).
- Don’t have sex with people who are at high risk for contracting AIDS. These have been noted to be:
- Homosexual or bisexual men especially with multiple sex partners or who use illegal intravenous drugs.
- Heterosexual partners of persons infected or exposed to HIV.
- Persons who have had multiple blood transfusions, especially before 1985, unless tested negative.
- Don’t have sex with more than one person.
- Ask specific questions about your partner’s sexual past, i.e., have they had many partners or unprotected (no condom) sex? Do not be afraid to ask if they have been tested for HIV and if the results were positive or negative.
- Don’t have sex with anyone who you know or suspect has had multiple partners. (If you’ve had sex with someone you suspect is HIV positive, see your doctor).
- Don’t share needles and/or “the works” with anyone. This includes not only illegal drugs such as heroin but steroids, insulin, etc. Don’t have sex with people who use or have used intravenous drugs.
- Don’t share personal items that have blood on them, such as razors.