(human immunodeficiency virus)

If a person is HIV positive, they have the virus called HTLV-III in their blood.


(acquired immune deficiency syndrome)

If a person has AIDS, they have the virus, and they show symptoms resulting from a breakdown and failure of the body's immune system caused by the virus, HTLV-III


  • Worldwide, more than 36 million adults and children are now living with HIV. Since the epidemic began, 21.8 million people have died of AIDS, 4.3 million of them children.
  • An estimated 5.3 million people were newly infected with HIV in 2000 alone and AIDS-related deaths reached a record 3 million. Of those who died, 500,000 were children.
  • An estimated 900,000 Americans are living with HIV or AIDS.

Risk groups

Though anyone who has sex can get AIDS, the following groups have simply experienced a much more common occurrence of AIDS infection in the past.

  • Male homosexuals and bisexuals, especially between the ages of 17 and 25: In a study of young gay and bisexual men in California, about 1 in 7 between the ages of 17 and 19 were infected with the AIDS virus. 30% of the participants admitted to having unprotected anal intercourse, the highest-risk sexual activity. Teenage gay men under 19 years old were twice as likely to have unprotected anal sex than gay men in their late twenties.
  • Intravenous drug users: The HIV virus is easily transferred by sharing needles. Needles used in blood transfusions are not shared. Since 1985, blood supplies and donors have been carefully screened for the virus, so people who require blood transfusions or blood products are much less at risk today.
  • People who have sex with the above risk groups: Prostitutes are especially dangerous because of their promiscuity and intravenous drug use.
  • People who received a blood transfusion or blood products prior to 1985: before screening for HIV began.
  • People who have unprotected sex with multiple partners
  • Sexually active teens: Studies show that teens today are more likely to have sex at an early age, to have multiple partners through adolescents and to neglect safe-sex practices. Teens are less likely to have been exposed to life-threatening tragedies than people who have lived longer. Their friends of the same age are also less likley to have faced major life-threatening tragedy. For this reason, it's easy for teens to fall under the illusion that life-threatening disease and injury cannot happen to them, until it hits them or someone of similar age with whom they share a close bond. Disregarding this danger can be a risk factor for unplanned pregnancy and STDs.

Methods of contraction

The virus is usually transmitted during intimate sexual contact, or by exposure to contaminated blood via shared hypodermic needles or blood transfusions. The two primary fluids that carry the virus are blood and semen. It is possible for someone to carry the virus without any symptoms or knowledge of its presence. You cannot acquire AIDS through casual contact, hugging, touching, closed lip or cheek kissing. French kissing is a little fuzzy. The presence of the virus in saliva is very minute compared to its presence in the blood. However, brushing one's teeth does cause the gums to bleed making it apparent that hypothetically one could contract HIV through "French" or wet kissing. A good rule of thumb would be to avoid French kissing an infected person or someone in a high-risk category. The virus cannot exist outside the body for any substantial amount of time, so you cannot contract the virus by eating a meal or swimming with someone carrying the virus. You cannot contract AIDS by donating blood, since all needles used for blood donors are sterilized and used only once. Blood used in transfusions today goes through a strict screening process, making the estimated risk of acquiring AIDS through a blood transfusion between .01% and .001% or very, very unlikely.

You cannot contract AIDS from...

  • Exposure to sweat or tears
  • Sharing food, utensils, towels, sheets, a telephone or a toilet
  • Swimming in a pool
  • Bed bugs or mosquitoes
  • Dry kissing
  • Donating blood

How the virus works

Once in the blood the virus attacks and kills T-cells ("T" stands for the "thymus" gland where the T-cells mature). T-cells are white blood cells that perform a number of vital functions in order to guard against disease. They directly attack and kill antigens (any substance such as a bacteria or virus that is recognized as foreign and possibly harmful to the body). Other T-cells regulate the immune response by either activating immune response cells when the body is in danger, or suppressing the immune response cells when the body is not in danger. Once the T-cells are wiped out, the body's immune system is defenseless and becomes vulnerable to viruses, bacteria, fungi and any number of infectious diseases. Simple ailments like yeast infections and the common cold can quickly become very serious or even fatal.


You may experience no symptoms at all for 8 to 9 years. During this time you could still pass the disease on to someone else.

Although this is possible, people commonly experience a brief flu-like illness 2 to 6 weeks after contracting the virus. Symptoms during this period may include fever, headache, sore throat, swollen lymph glands or a rash.

If you don't experience symptoms soon after infection, the virus continues to kill T-cells and weaken your immune system until you do experience mild infections or chronic symptoms such as...

  • Swollen lymph nodes
  • Diarrhea
  • Weight loss
  • Fever
  • Cough and shortness of breath

About 10 to 11 years after the infection, HIV will progress to AIDS. At this time your immune system will have become severely damaged. You will have a CD4 lymphocyte count of 200 or less as compared to a normal count of 600 to 1000. You will be susceptible to opportunistic diseases that take advantage of your suppressed immune system. Symptoms of these types of diseases include...

  • Soaking night sweats
  • Shaking chills for several weeks
  • A fever over 100ûF for several weeks
  • Dry cough
  • Shortness of breath
  • Chronic diarrhea
  • Persistent white spots or unusual lesions on your tongue or on the interior of your mouth
  • Headaches
  • Blurred or distorted vision
  • Weight loss

Symptoms occurring at this time from the HIV virus itself include...

  • Persistent unexplained fatigue
  • Soaking night sweats
  • Shaking chills and fever
  • Swollen lymph nodes for over 3 months
  • Chronic diarrhea
  • Persistent headaches

Common cancers resulting from AIDS include...

  • Lymphoma: Cancer of the lymph nodes
  • Cervical cancer: cancer of the neck
  • Koposi's sarcoma: Bluish red spots usually beginning at the feet and spreading up the body, caused by cancer (proliferation) of the blood vessels.

Symptoms of children carrying the HIV virus

  • Failure to gain weight or grow normally
  • Difficulty walking
  • Delayed mental development
  • Cerebral palsy
  • Severe forms of common childhood infections...
  • Ear infection
  • Tonsillitis
  • Pneumonia
  • The same opportunistic diseases and associated symptoms occurring in adults...
  • Soaking night sweats
  • Shaking chills for several weeks
  • A fever over 100ûF for several weeks
  • Dry cough
  • Shortness of breath
  • Chronic diarrhea
  • Persistent white spots or unusual lesions on your tongue or on the interior of your mouth
  • Headaches
  • Blurred or distorted vision
  • Weight loss

HIV Tests

A person can be HIV positive, have no symptoms at all and still pass it on to someone else, so if you are in any of the risk groups, routine tests for HIV are a good idea. Also, if you are pregnant, knowing your HIV status can help save your baby. HIV-positive pregnant women can prevent 90% of their babies from acquiring HIV by taking the drug AZT. Never have unprotected sex. Everyone is capable of lying about their sexual history. Don't play games with your life. If you have already had unprotected sex, here are a couple tests to ask for in order to regain your piece of mind.

Blood tests

that detect the presence of antibodies to the HIV virus are inexpensive, widely available, and accurate in detecting 99.9% of AIDS infections when used in combination. However, it can take up to 6 months for the body to produce enough antibodies for HIV to be detected.

1: Enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay (ELISA): 99.5% accurate HIV antigens are attached to a plastic well or to beads. A sample of the patient's blood serum is added, and excess proteins are removed. A second antibody coupled to an enzyme is added, followed by addition of a substance that will cause the enzyme to react by forming a color. The color can be measured by an instrument called a spectrophotometer. Occasionally, the ELISA test appears positive for a patient without symptoms of AIDS from a low-risk group. This result is likely to be a false-positive. If it occurs, the ELISA is then repeated on the same sample of the patient's blood. If the second ELISA is positive, the result is confirmed by the Western blot test. 1 to 3 months after infection, the overwhelming majority of infected persons are detected by ELISA screening.

2: Western blot (immunoblot): When used in combination with ELISA testing, Western blot testing is 99.9% accurate. It is used to confirm ELISA results. The HIV antigen is purified, applied to a nylon filter, and treated with chemicals. Once treated the HIV antibody will show up as a colored patch or blot. A commercial Western blot test for HIV-1 is now available. It consists of a prefabricated strip that is incubated with a sample of the patient's blood serum and the developing chemicals. About nine different HIV-1 proteins can be detected in the blots. It may yield false negatives for patients with very early HIV infection and for those infected by the HIV-2 virus. In some patients the Western blot yields indeterminate results.

3: Immunofluorescence assay (IFA): An alternative to Western Blotting used to confirm ELISA results. The HIV virus is mixed with a fluorescent chemical, the patient's blood serum is added and the resulting reaction is observed under a microscope with ultraviolet light.

4: Polymerase chain reaction (PCR) or DNA test: Used to evaluate the rare false-negative ELISA and Western blot tests. Some patients exhibit no symptoms of the AIDS virus and have no detectable presence of the antibody, but still carry the virus. They are called antibody-negative asymptomatic carriers. These carriers may explain why a drop of transfused blood still carries an estimated .01% to .001% risk of containing the AIDS virus. The PCR test measures the presence of viral nucleic acids in the patient's blood even when there is no detectable antibody to HIV. The presence of HIV nucleic acids in a blood sample is amplified, by making numerous copies of a gene. PCR can detect the rare case (1%) in which the HIV infection was not detected by the ELISA test because the patient did not yet generate an antibody. The PCR test is based on our present knowledge of the genetic sequences in HIV. Since the virus is continually evolving and producing new genetic variations, the PCR test could yield a false negative for patients with new genetic variations of the HIV virus.

AIDS Treatment

AZT was the best known weapon against AIDS until the mid 1990's

Protease inhibitors can improve health significantly.

Researchers are studying the effects of a dose of AZT the morning after a suspected AIDS transfer. This may be available in the future as the "morning after treatment."

Today we have HIV-positive patients who have survived 15 years without developing AIDS due to modern day treatment.

Still there is no known cure for AIDS. This and the fact that AIDS often leads to an early death, emphasize the importance of prevention. Never have unprotected sex for any reason.

If you're diagnosed as HIV-positive

Practice safe sex. Always use a condom and water-based lubricant for vaginal or anal intercourse. Use a barrier such as a condom, saran wrap, or dental dam during oral sex. Do not share sexual devices.

Tell everyone you've had sex with. They need to be tested. If they have it, then their other sexual partners need to know as well. Pregnant women need to know you have HIV whether or you're the father or not, because they need to be tested, and if they are HIV positive, they need to take treatment to protect the baby from acquiring the disease.

Tell your health care providers so you can get the best treatment.

Don't share needles or syringes.

Don't donate blood or organs

Don't share razor blades or tooth brushes

Get medical care right away, especially if you're pregnant. Pregnant mothers who receive treatment and have a cesarean section can greatly reduce their child's risk of acquiring the disease.

Find a doctor that you feel comfortable with and one that is well experienced and knowledgeable about the treatment of AIDS.

Follow your doctors instructions exactly! You might be instructed to take medication throughout the day. Adhere to this schedule. If you get sick from the medication, call your doctor, but do not stop taking it on schedule.

Get immunizations to prevent pneumonia, the flu and other infections.

Make sure you tell your doctor about every medication, alternative medicine or herbs you're using to ensure they don't interfere with the medication he/she prescribes.

Take great care of your body...

No smoking, alcohol or illegal drugs. These weaken your body.

Eat the healthiest diet you can, with lots of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean protein and supplements of vitamin and mineral as recommended by a registered dietician or your doctor.

Avoid infection caused by food. Avoid unpasteurized dairy products, raw eggs and raw seafood. Have all your meat prepared well-done.

Drink great quality purified water. Only drink boiled tap water, bottled water, or water filtered using reverse osmosis as part of the purification process.

Exercise regularly to improve your strength, energy level and mood.

Get at least 8 hours of quality sleep every night.

Be careful around your pets. Always wash your hands with anti-bacterial soap and water immediately after petting or playing with them. Have someone else clean up your pets cage, litter box, or feces. If you must do it yourself use latex gloves and wash your hands with anti-bacterial soap and water immediately afterwards.

Reduce your stress by finding ways to relax. (music, reading, stretching, meditation, yoga and exercise all help you relax)

Wash your hands with anti-bacterial soap and water before eating or preparing food, after visiting public places and after using the restroom. Carry an evaporating anti-bacterial gel to wash your hands when anti-bacterial soap and water is not available.

Educate yourself on HIV and AIDS

Find a support system, whether it's family and friends, another HIV carrier, a counselor or support group of other HIV carriers.

Make a conscious decision to use your condition as a wake up call to live life to the fullest.

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