The Human Immunodeficiency Virus, commonly known as HIV, is spread when infected bodily fluids from one person enter another person’s body. Pre-cum, semen, vaginal fluids, blood, and breast milk are the fluids that can transmit the virus. HIV attacks the very cells which normally defend the body against illness. Eventually, HIV weakens the immune system to such an extent that the body can no longer fight off other diseases and infections.
What is AIDS? AIDS, or Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome, is the most advanced stage of HIV.
Is there a difference between HIV and AIDS? HIV and AIDS are part of a continuum. HIV is the virus that infects the body and AIDS is the most advanced stage of HIV. So, not everyone who has HIV has AIDS, but, everyone who has AIDS is infected with HIV. How quickly someone with HIV advances to AIDS depends on many different factors. One important factor is how soon after HIV infection a person is diagnosed and gets into care. So, it is important to get tested, get care if you are positive and protect yourself and your partner(s).
Is there a cure for HIV? No, not yet. If someone is diagnosed with HIV they can control its effects with medication and by looking after their health, but there is no cure. Today, people can live long lives with HIV.
How does someone get HIV? HIV is primarily spread through unprotected sexual contact – that is, vaginal, anal, or oral sex. The chances of getting or passing HIV from oral sex are lower than vaginal or anal sex, but there is still a risk. HIV can also be spread by sharing needles.
Women who are HIV positive can pass HIV to their baby before or during delivery or through breastfeeding after birth. Medications are available, however, that greatly reduce the chance of an HIV positive mother passing HIV to her baby.
Saliva, tears or sweat have never been shown to cause an HIV infection. Kissing is also safe (open mouth kissing is considered very low risk.) HIV is not spread through casual contact like holding hands or hugging, or by sharing drinks or sitting on toilet seats
How do I reduce my risk of getting HIV? Use condoms each and every time you have sex (that mean’s oral, anal and vaginal sex). When used consistently and correctly condoms are considered highly effective in preventing the spread of HIV and also protecting against many other STDs. If you do use needles don’t share them. It is also important to know your own – and your partner’s – HIV status. Get tested regularly, especially before starting a new relationship.
Acknowledgement: This fact sheet was originally developed by youth and staff at ReachOut.com, a website that helps teens get through tough times.