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What Is HIV?
What Is HIV?
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What Is HIV?

HIV stands for human immunodeficiency virus. AIDS stands for acquired immunodeficiency syndrome. HIV is the virus that causes AIDS. When someone is infected with HIV, the virus begins to attack the immune system, which can make someone more likely to get sick from other germs. It can take many years for someone with HIV to develop AIDS, and some people who are HIV positive never develop AIDS. While there is no cure for HIV, there are medicines that can help people live long and healthy lives like people with other chronic illnesses (such as diabetes). It’s important to know that you cannot tell if someone has HIV just by looking at them. The only way to know for sure if a person has HIV is for that person to get tested for HIV and tell you the results of their HIV test.

HIV is spread through specific bodily fluids- specifically semen, vaginal fluids, blood and breastmilk. It can be spread through sex, contact with an infected person’s blood or breastfeeding when a mother is HIV positive. Condoms create a barrier during sex that prevents the transmission of HIV from one partner to another.


Can I get HIV from sharing drinks or food with my friends?

No. HIV is not like the common cold or the flu. You cannot get it from sharing food or drinks with someone who has HIV. It also cannot be spread by shaking hands, kissing or hugging. HIV is spread through exposure to an infected person’s blood, semen, vaginal fluids or breast milk. It is most commonly transmitted through sexual contact, sharing needles with someone who is infected or breastfeeding if the mother is HIV positive.

How do I prevent HIV?

When someone is sexually active (whether having penile-vaginal, anal or oral sex) it’s key to practice safe sex by using a barrier method like a condom and/or a dental dam each and every time you have sex.

People who are having sex should also get tested regularly for HIV and other STIs and ask your partners to do the same.

When does HIV become AIDS, and will you die from it?

When people are first infected with HIV, they often have no symptoms or very mild symptoms, which is why they must get tested to know for sure if they have HIV. Later, the virus can weaken the immune system, allowing specific infections and diseases to occur and for the virus to become AIDS.

Not all people with HIV develop AIDS. It’s impossible to say how someone’s body will respond to the infection, and there are different strains (kinds) of HIV. Over time most people with HIV get a weakened immune system that makes them more susceptible to infections and diseases that people with healthy immune systems typically don’t get.

This is why it’s important to have regular tests for HIV once you become sexually active. The earlier someone learns they are HIV positive the sooner they can begin taking medications (called anti-retrovirals or ARVs) that help to manage their viral load and keep them as healthy as possible.

Is it possible to manage HIV?

Absolutely. With regular visits to the doctor or clinic and a lifestyle that includes medications (called anti-retrovirals or ARVs), healthy diet and exercise, someone who is diagnosed as HIV positive can manage the virus and live a happy and fulfilling life.

One part of living with HIV is learning to be open and honest with sexual partners so that plans can be made for protection, understanding viral loads and preventing the transmission of the virus.

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The initials HIV and the acronym AIDS are often used together leading people to believe they are the same thing when in reality they are different. HIV is the virus that can cause AIDS, and AIDS is the illness that can occur later when the immune system is no longer able to fight off infections like it is supposed to. HIV can be transmitted from one infected person to another through certain sexual behaviors. Despite many myths that exist, the truth is that not all bodily fluids transmit HIV. The bodily fluids that can transmit HIV are semen, vaginal fluid, blood and breast milk.

When someone first gets infected with HIV they usually do not show any symptoms. This is why getting tested regularly is important. If someone is tested and they do have HIV there are many medications that can help treat the symptoms of HIV and allow someone to live a healthy, symptom-free life for many years.

It is common for young people to hear many myths about HIV, so having a trusted adult in their lives that they can talk to about this topic is important. There is also a lot of stigma around having HIV, so it is essential to provide young people with medically accurate and age-appropriate information on this topic.

It important for caring adults to talk with young people about HIV transmission and prevention, before they begin engaging in sexual behaviors with a partner. While it is good to normalize HIV and STIs, it is also important to be clear with young people about how HIV and STIs can affect them and why it is important to practice safer sex.

Before young people begin engaging in sexual behaviors, they should know how they can reduce the risk of contracting HIV by decreasing their number of sexual partners, getting tested before sexual activity and properly and consistently using latex barriers, like condoms, female (internal) condoms and dental dams. Research shows that young people whose parents talked to them about condoms before they began having sex are more likely to use condoms at first intercourse and thereafter.

It’s also very helpful for young people to know how to get tested once they begin having sex. HIV and other STD testing and treatment is offered through your family doctor or at most family planning clinics and community health centers. Home testing kits are now available in most major pharmacies as well. HIV testing involves a simple blood test. Young people should understand that HIV can be treated with medicines provided by a doctor, but there is no cure for HIV.

Talking about HIV with the young people in your life lets them know that they are not alone and they can come to their parents or guardians when they have questions or need support.



If you start essential conversations about topics like HIV with your children, then they will know they can come to you with questions. The easiest way to start these conversations is to talk about issues as they arise in everyday life while you are doing things like watching TV together. Symptoms, testing and condoms may not just come up in conversation, but it is important to talk about these issues.

Here are some ways to start these conversations:

Broach the topic when there is a sex scene in a show or movie

For example, if a sex scene comes up on TV, there is an opportunity to talk about whether the partners talked about safer sex or used a latex barrier, like a condom or dental dam. While you may be nervous about having these conversations, a simple, “Wow, do you think they’re worried about STDs or HIV?” is one way to start the conversation.

Walk up the aisle where condoms are when you’re shopping in a pharmacy

If you are shopping together in the market or drugstore, walk up the aisle where the condoms are hanging and ask your child if they know what condoms are and how they are used. Purchase a pack to take home and open so your child can see what they look like and how they are used.