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.
* Unprotected means without using condoms alone or with other latex or polyurethane barriers. When used correctly every time and for every sex act, these provide protection from HIV. Though not 100% effective, they will reduce the risk. Male condoms with a spermicidal gel is preferred. The Reality female condom also offers protection, especially when used with a male condom.

  • 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.
There is some concern about the risk of getting AIDS from an infected doctor, dentist or patient. There are almost no cases of health professionals passing HIV to a patient. Patient to health professional transmission has been more noted. Measures are being proposed and required by medical and dental associations to decrease these possible risks, even though they are extremely low.

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.
Screening tests for AIDS are available through doctors’ offices, clinics and health departments. A small sample of your blood is tested for antibodies to the HIV virus. If these antibodies are present, you test positive for and are considered infected with HIV. It could take as long as six months from exposure to the virus for these antibodies to show up. The most common reason for a false negative test is when a person gets tested before HIV antibodies have formed. If you test positive for HIV, a second type of blood test is done to confirm it. HIV/AIDS symptoms may not show up for as long a eight to eleven years after a person is infected with the virus.

Signs and Symptoms
  • Early symptoms of AIDS:
  • Fatigue.
  • Loss of appetite.
  • Chronic diarrhea.
  • Weight loss.
  • Persistent dry cough.
  • Fever.
  • Night sweats.
  • Swollen lymph nodes.
Persons with full blown AIDS fall prey to many diseases such as skin infections, fungal infections, tuberculosis, pneumonia and cancer. These “opportunistic” infections are what lead to death in an AIDS victim, not the AIDS virus itself. When the virus invades the brain cells, it leads to forgetfulness, impaired speech, trembling and seizures.

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.

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Written by American Institute for Preventive Medicine

Explore Wellness in 2021