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HIV and AIDS: Just the Facts

By teenwire

In the time it takes you to read this article, about 18 people between the ages of 15 and 24 will become infected with HIV. Don't become one of them! The best way to protect yourself is to know the facts and to use what you've learned. Here's what you need to know. ...

1. What is the difference between HIV and AIDS?

HIV stands for human immunodeficiency virus. The most advanced stage of the HIV disease is called AIDS (Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome).

2. How can I get HIV?

HIV is transmitted in blood, semen, breast milk, and vaginal fluids. HIV is most commonly spread from one person to another through

having unprotected sexual intercourse with someone who has the virus

sharing needles or syringes with someone who has the virus

being deeply punctured with a needle or surgical instrument contaminated with the virus

getting HIV-infected blood, semen, or vaginal secretions into open wounds or sores
A pregnant woman infected with HIV can also pass the virus to her fetus during her pregnancy or delivery. Hugging or sharing a drink with someone infected with HIV is safe. HIV can't be transmitted through casual contact.

3. How can I protect myself from HIV?

Abstinence — having no sex play at all — is 100 percent risk-free when it comes to HIV. But abstinence isn't for everyone. Sticking with safer sex activities that avoid the exchange of blood, semen, and vaginal fluids, reduces a person's risk of getting HIV. Safer sex activities with the lowest amount of risk include body rubbing ("dry humping"), deep kissing, mutual masturbation, and erotic massage. Having oral sex with a guy who's wearing a condom or a woman with a Glyde® dam or plastic wrap covering the vulva are also very low-risk activities. "Very low risk" means that there are no reported cases of HIV being transmitted this way.

Having unprotected oral sex, vaginal intercourse with a female or latex condom, or anal sex with a female or latex condom is considered low risk — there are very few cases of HIV being transmitted this way.

On the other hand, having vaginal or anal intercourse without a condom puts a person at very high risk for getting HIV. In fact, this is how millions of people got HIV.

4. How can I get tested?

It's a good idea for anyone who has taken risks sexually or has shared IV drug equipment to be tested for HIV. It's part of taking care of your health and feeling good about having sex. It's also important to make sure your partner gets tested if she or he has taken these risks.

Planned Parenthood health centers provide testing, and local, state, and federal health departments offer free testing. You can also buy an anonymous HIV home test kit in a drugstore or at Home Access. Tests are done with samples of blood, urine, or saliva. Some testing sites can provide results in under an hour.

Once a person is infected with HIV, symptoms could develop right away — or not for another 10 years. That's why many people who are infected with HIV don't know it — because they don't have any symptoms. And if they don't know they're infected, that means you won't know either. In fact, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimate that as many as one in three people with HIV don't know they are infected. Testing is the only way to be sure. However, keep in mind that it can take up to three months after exposure for HIV to show up in a blood test.

5. What happens if I get HIV?

HIV breaks down the immune system and makes a person more likely to get diseases and infections that the body could normally fight off.

If you test positive for HIV, here are a few steps you can take:

Consult a clinician experienced in treating HIV/AIDS.

Protect your sex partner(s) from HIV by following safer-sex guidelines.

Inform sex partner(s) who may also be infected.

Maintain a strong immune system with regular medical checkups and a healthy lifestyle.

Consider using anti-viral therapies that may slow the progress of the infection.
But now that you know the facts about HIV and AIDS, you can take steps to avoid becoming one of the 20,000 young people in the Ghana. who become infected with HIV each year. Protect yourself and stay healthy!