HIV is the human immunodeficiency virus. It is the virus that can lead to acquired immune deficiency syndrome, or AIDS.
Viruses are like specialists. They zero in on certain cells in the body and move in. Once HIV attacks and moves into a cell called “T” cell, it changes that cell into a small virus factory to keep repeating the process. HIV damages a person’s body by destroying as many T cells as it can, which are crucial cells to help the body fight diseases.
HIV lives in body fluids that mainly contain blood or white blood cells. The most common fluids that it can be found in are:
- Vaginal Fluids
- Breast Milk
Therefore, people have and can get HIV through:
- Unprotected sex with an HIV-infected person. This includes vaginal, anal and oral sex on a man or woman without a condom or other barrier. Having sex while a woman is on her period or during outbreaks of genital sores or lesions (caused by herpes and other sexually transmitted diseases).
- Sharing drug injection equipment (needles and/or works); or being accidentally stuck by needles or sharp objects with infected blood. This also includes sharing needles and sharp objects for medical reasons such as Diabetes.
- Infected blood used in transfusions and infected blood products used in the treatment of certain diseases and disorders. As of March 1985 blood is tested for HIV before use.
- Pregnancy, childbirth, and/or breastfeeding, where the virus is passed from mother to child.
- Transplanted organs from infected donors. Routine screening of organ donors also began in 1985.
HIV and AIDS are not spread through casual contact such as shaking hands, kissing, hugging, and sitting on toilet seats (when blood or body fluids are not involved). HIV cannot survive or reproduce outside of the body; it gets passed from person to person. People “become infected with HIV” they do not “catch HIV or AIDS.”
As with other viruses there is no cure for HIV but there is treatment available to help individuals live healthy and strong lives. Because the most common ways HIV is transmitted are unprotected sex or sharing drug injection equipment with an infected person, it is important to take steps to reduce the risks that lead to infection. They include:
- Abstinence is the most effective way to prevent HIV.
- Protect yourself from all body fluids; especially the ones mentioned earlier.
- Get tested to know your HIV status.
- Everyone should be tested; the CDC recommends those between the ages of 13 and 64 be tested for HIV at least once. If you are at increased risk for HIV, you should be tested for HIV at least once a year.
- If you have HIV, you can get medical care, treatment, and supportive services to help you stay healthy and reduce your ability to transmit the virus to others.
- If you are pregnant and find that you have HIV, treatments are available to reduce the chance that your baby will have HIV.
Protect yourself and know your status!
Divisions of HIV/AIDS Prevention
National Center for HIV/AIDS, Viral Hepatitis, STD, and TB Prevention