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AIDS 101

OW Staff | 2/6/2009, 5 p.m.

AIDS is a chronic, life-threatening condition caused by the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV). By damaging or destroying the cells of theimmune system, HIV interferes with the body's ability to effectively fight off viruses, bacteria, and fungi that cause disease. This makes you more susceptible to certain types of cancers and to opportunistic infections the body would normally resist, such as pneumonia and meningitis. The virus and the infection itself are known as HIV.

The term acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS) is used to mean the later stages of an HIV infection.

You cannot get HIV through casual contact such as shaking hands or hugging a person with HIV/AIDS; from using a public telephone, drinking fountain, restroom, swimming pool, jacuzzi, or hot tub; from sharing a drink; from being coughed or sneezed on by a person with HIV/AIDS; from giving blood or from a mosquito bite.

HIV is spread through some of the body's fluids. HIV is in blood, semen, vaginal fluids, breast milk, some body fluids sometimes handled by health care workers (fluids surrounding the brain and spinal cord, bone joints, and around an unborn baby)

HIV is passed from one person to another by having sex (vaginal, anal, or oral) with a person who has HIV; sharing needles with a drug user who has HIV; during pregnancy, birth, or breast-feeding if a mother has HIV; getting transfusions of blood with HIV, which is rare in the United States

Taking simple steps to prevent getting or spreading HIV will pay off both for yourself and for those you love.

Know your "ABCs."

* A stands for "abstinence."

* B is for "be faithful."

* C is for "condoms."

The following are known risk factors for HIV infection. If you answer yes to any of these questions, you should definitely seek counseling and testing. You may be at increased risk of infection if any of the following apply to you since 1978.

* Have you injected drugs or steroids or shared equipment (such as needles, syringes, cotton, water) with others?

* Have you had unprotected vaginal, anal, or oral sex with men who have sex with men, multiple partners, or anonymous partners?

* Have you exchanged sex for drugs or money?

* Have you been diagnosed with or treated for hepatitis, tuberculosis (TB), or a sexually transmitted disease (STD), like syphilis?

* Have you received a blood transfusion or clotting factor between 1978 and 1985?

* Have you had unprotected sex with someone who could answer yes to any of the above questions?

* If you have had sex with someone whose history of risk-taking behavior is unknown to you or if you or they may have had many sex partners, then you have increased the chances that you might be HIV infected.

* If you plan to become pregnant, counseling and testing is even more important. If a woman is infected with HIV, medical therapies are available to lower the chance of passing HIV to the infant before, during, or after birth.