Published December 18, 2007

What is HIV?
Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) is the virus that causes AIDS. HIV harms the body’s immune system by attacking certain kinds of cells, known as helper T cells or CD4 cells, which defend the body against illness.

What is AIDS?
AIDS, or Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome, occurs when an individual's immune system is weakened by HIV to the point where they develop any number of diseases or cancers. An individual with HIV will also be considered to have progressed to an AIDS diagnosis if their immune system, as measured by their T-cell (or CD4 count) falls below a certain level.

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What is the difference between HIV and AIDS?
HIV is the virus that causes AIDS, the most advanced stage of HIV disease. A weakened immune system caused by HIV will allow opportunistic infections (OIs) to develop.  A healthy immune system would normally fight off these infections while an HIV-weakened immune system is susceptible.

How do you get HIV?
In the United States, most people get HIV through unprotected sex, including vaginal, anal and oral sex, and through injection drug use. Certain bodily fluids including blood, pre-cum, semen, and vaginal secretions, spread HIV. An HIV infected woman can pass HIV to her baby through pregnancy or delivery, and also through breast milk. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention contact with saliva, tears, or sweat has never resulted in someone getting HIV. You cannot get HIV through casual contact such as hugging or shaking hands.

How can I tell if I'm infected with HIV?
The only way to determine for sure whether you are infected is to be tested for HIV. You cannot rely on symptoms to know whether or not you are infected. Many people who are HIV positive do not have any symptoms for many years.

How do I prevent getting HIV?
There is no cure or vaccine for HIV, but it is preventable. 

  • Choosing not to have sex is the only way to be 100% sure that HIV won't be transmitted sexually.
  • For those who are sexually active, use a condom for vaginal or anal sex, and barrier methods, such as a condom or dental dam, for oral sex. 
  • If you are HIV-positive and you are pregnant, see your health care provider to get appropriate treatment. Treatments are available to significantly reduce the risk of passing the infection to your child during pregnancy and delivery.
  • Do not share needles for any kind of injection drug use.
  • Get tested! And ask your partners to do the same.

Are condoms safe and effective?
Yes.  Scientific evidence demonstrates that latex condoms are highly effective in preventing the transmission of HIV when used consistently and correctly.   That means you’ve got to know how to properly use a condom and use one every time. 

How do you use a condom?
Just having any old condom around is not going to automatically protect you. Here are some tips to make sure the condom you're using is doing its job:

  • Latex or polyurethane condoms are the only ones that protect against HIV infection.
  • Check the expiration date on the wrapper; if it's past, throw out the condom. Also look at the condom itself - does it seem dry, brittle, stiff or unusually sticky? Don't take chances, use a different one.
  • Store your condoms in a cool, dry place so they don't get damaged. Heat and excessive wear can cause a condom to tear during sex - glove boxes, back pockets, wallets and window shelves are all bad places to keep your condoms.
  • To make sure a condom doesn't tear or come off, use some water-based lubricant inside and outside the condom. Be sure not to use an oil-based lubricant like Vaseline or other petroleum jellies, body lotions, mineral or vegetable oils - they can cause the latex to break down.
  • Make sure the condom is on correctly before getting started.

What is the connection between HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases?
Having a sexually transmitted disease (STD) can increase a person's risk of becoming infected with HIV. Having STDs that can cause open sores, such as herpes, is especially risky.  STDs that do not cause open sores also pose a threat.  

Check here for more HIV/AIDS resources.

Written by BET-Staff


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