Information for high school students
As of December 1993, nearly 68,000 people between the ages of 20 and 29 have been diagnosed with AIDS. Many of them probably were infected with the virus that causes AIDS when they were teenagers.
You or your friends may unknowingly be doing things that put you at risk for getting infected with HIV. For instance, the virus that causes AIDS can be passed from one person to another through unprotected sexual intercourse. Today a teen in the United States gets pregnant every 30 seconds. Every 11 seconds a teen in the United States gets a sexually transmitted disease (STD), such as gonorrhea or chlamydia. The same sexual activities that cause pregnancy and give you STDs can infect you with the virus that causes AIDS.
There are other ways besides sexual intercourse that teens can get AIDS. To find out how to protect yourself and your friends, read on.
What is AIDS?
- AIDS stands for acquired immunodeficiency syndrome.
- AIDS is a condition in which the body's immune system-the system that fights off sickness-breaks down. Because the system fails, a person with AIDS typically develops a variety of life-threatening illnesses.
What is HIV Infection?
- AIDS is caused by a virus that scientists call human immunodeficiency virus, or HIV. A virus is a small germ that can cause disease.
- If HIV enters your body, you may become infected with HIV. From the time a person is infected, he or she can infect others, even if no symptoms are present. A special blood test can detect HIV.
- HIV can hide in a person's body for years without producing any symptoms. Even if no symptoms are present, anyone infected with HIV should be under a doctor's care.
- People infected with HIV can develop many health problems. These can include extreme weight loss, severe pneumonia, certain forms of cancer, and damage to the nervous system. These illnesses signal the onset of AIDS. In some people, these illnesses may develop within a year or two. Others may stay healthy for as long as 10 or more years before symptoms appear.
What Is The Difference Between HIV And AIDS?
- HIV infection and AIDS are serious health problems. AIDS is the result of a long process that begins with HIV infection.
- A person will not develop AIDS unless he or she has been infected with HIV. By preventing HIV infection, we can prevent future cases of AIDS.
How Does Someone Become Infected With HIV?
A person becomes infected when HIV is introduced into his or her body. There are two main ways that people become infected with HIV:
- By engaging in unprotected sexual intercourse - vaginal, anal, or oral - with an infected person.
- By sharing drug needles or syringes with an infected person.
In addition, there are two other documented ways:
- Women who are infected with HIV can pass it on to their babies during pregnancy, birth, or breast-feeding.
- Some people have become infected through receiving blood transfusions. Since 1985, the American blood supply has been tested for HIV. Transmission through an infected blood transfusion is extremely rare today.
How Does Someone Get HIV Through Sex?
- HIV is spread through unprotected sexual intercourse, from male to female, female to male, or male to male. Female-to-female transmission is also possible.
- HIV may be in an infected person's blood, semen, or vaginal secretions. It is thought that it can enter the body through cuts or sores—some so small you don't know they're there—on tissue in the vagina, penis, or rectum, and possibly the mouth.
- Since many people infected with HIV have no symptoms, you can't be sure who is infected. Any contact with infected blood, semen, or vaginal secretions may spread the virus. Therefore, the more sex partners you have, the greater your chances of encountering one who is infected, and then becoming infected yourself.
How Does Someone Get HIV From Sharing Needles?
Sharing needles, even once, is a very easy way to be infected with HIV. Whether you inject drugs or steroids, you risk becoming infected with HIV if you share needles or syringes. Blood from an infected person can stay in a needle or syringe and then be transmitted to the next person who uses it.
How Can I Avoid HIV Infection?
Don't do drugs of any kind. Sharing needles to inject drugs can infect you with HIV. Many drugs, especially alcohol, can cloud your judgment and cause you to do things that place you at risk for HIV infection.
Don't have sexual intercourse. Abstinence is the only sure protection. If you do have sexual intercourse, wait until you are in a long-term, mutually faithful relationship, such as marriage, with an uninfected partner. By choosing not to have intercourse, you:
- Help guarantee your safety from all sexually transmitted diseases, including HIV infection. Remember, every 11 seconds a teen in the U.S. gets a sexually transmitted disease.
- Give yourself more time to be sure you are physically and emotionally ready to engage in a sexual relationship.
- Give yourself more time to learn and understand more about the physical and emotional aspects of sexual relationships.
- Follow religious, cultural, and social traditions that favor postponing intercourse until marriage.
- Help guarantee your safety from unwanted pregnancy. Remember, every 30 seconds a teen in the U.S. gets pregnant.
When you decide you are ready to become sexually active, do so only with one uninfected partner in a mutually faithful, long-term relationship.
Avoid sexual intercourse with people who may be infected with HIV. These include people who have:
- Injected drugs
- Had multiple or anonymous sex partners.
- Had any sexually transmitted diseases.
If you have sexual intercourse outside of a mutually faithful, long-term relationship with an uninfected partner, use a latex condom.
Do not make decisions about sexual intercourse while under the influence of alcohol or other drugs.
These substances can cloud your judgment and cause you to take risks that could put you in danger of becoming infected with HIV.
How Else Can I Help Stop AIDS?
If you've read this far, you know the facts about HIV infection and AIDS. You'd be surprised at how many people don't know them. A lot of people believe all sorts of myths about AIDS—myths that can be very harmful.
These myths can cause people to unknowingly put themselves, and others, at risk of infection. They can also cause people to treat others unfairly. For instance, some people incorrectly think that AIDS only affects certain groups of people. Because they fear AIDS, they do cruel things to people in those groups.
We should work to make sure that such prejudice and unfair treatment doesn't happen. Now that you know the facts about HIV infection and AIDS, you can tell others the truth and speak out against myths and prejudice.
What's more, people infected with HIV and those with AIDS can use your help. If you know someone who has AIDS, you can give compassion, friendship, or other help without fear of infection from everyday contact.
Even if you don't know anyone who is infected, you can join your community's effort to stop AIDS. You can volunteer your time with a local health organization, youth group, or religious group that has an HIV and AIDS program. Or you can contribute just by informally educating your peers about AIDS. Who knows? You just may save someone's life.
-From the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention