The Five Most Important Things You Should Know About: AIDS

  1. AIDS is caused by the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), and there is no cure. HIV weakens the body’s ability to fend off diseases and multiplies in lymph nodes. It destroys white blood cells and antibodies that make up the immune system. You can’t get it from hugging, dancing, high-fives, or sharing a can of soda. There are many myths about contracting AIDS and HIV. Women are at high risk and knowing your partner’s sexual history is one way to help keep you safe.
  2. HIV is spread during sexual transmission, sharing needles, from mother to infant, and from blood transfusions. There are rare incidences where it has been passed from unsterile dental and medical equipment. HIV-infected blood, semen, vaginal secretions, or breast milk must enter the body to become infected. Unclean sex toys are another way to spread HIV and other STDs. Be sure to use a condom on your sex toys if you plan on sharing the love, and use a condom each and every time you have oral sex. There are documented cases in which AIDS has been transmitted through fellatio, cunnilingus, and even anilingus.
  3. Many people don’t know they have HIV because they don’t have signs or symptoms. People can remain symptom-free for up to nine years or longer. Some symptoms include fever, headache, sore throat, rash, and swollen lymph glands within the first four weeks of being infected. The latest phase of HIV occurs 10 years after becoming infected and may transform into AIDS. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention defines AIDS as being the existence of the HIV antibody, plus a T-cell count of less than 200, compared to a normal count of 800 to 1,200.
  4. As AIDS progresses, symptoms worsen to night sweats, chills, dry cough, diarrhea, weight loss, and persistent headaches. People who are infected with HIV have a higher risk of developing cervical cancer and lymphoma because the immune system is impaired. There is no vaccine to prevent AIDS or HIV infection, but there are ways to prevent it. Know the HIV status of your sexual partners and don’t have unprotected sex unless you’re 100 percent sure that you’re not infected. Use a condom every time you have sex. Use a dental dam or break out the plastic wrap during oral sex.
  5. HIV is diagnosed by testing a blood sample or oral mucous for antibodies. Getting an annual HIV test is highly recommended since it can take up to six months from exposure to become HIV-positive. Although there is no cure for AIDS or HIV, there are anti-retroviral medications that slow down the growth and replication of the virus. Research and treatment options have improved greatly since the 1980s, but the side effects of these drug cocktails are challenging. [Mayo Clinic, CDC]