AIDS AND HIV: Prevention and the Search for a Cure


AIDS (Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome) is caused by infection with the Human Immunodeficiency Virus, or HIV. While HIV is a chronic illness, it is no longer a death sentence. In other words, if you get the disease, you can still live a long time.

During the 1980s, AIDS became a part of our vocabulary. With it, AIDS awareness became critical to our health education, as we learned that the disease existed and how it spread. While you and your family have likely learned a lot about AIDS over the past two and a half decades, World AIDS Day is a time to reflect on the disease and how much it has shaped our culture in the last generation. In honor of World AIDS Day, this December 1, we take a look at what we know about AIDS—what causes it and how to prevent it.

When you contract HIV, it attacks your body’s immune system, destroying the blood cells that help you fight off infection. If HIV destroys enough of these cells, known as CD4 or T-cells, you are diagnosed with AIDS.

HIV Symptoms
 Not everyone who contracts HIV experiences symptoms right away. Some may feel tired or have a fever within the first two months that they are infected, while others may feel nothing at all. With this in mind, the only way to be sure if you are infected is to get tested. You can get tested at your doctor’s office or your local public health clinic. You can also get information on testing centers near you by calling the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention at 1-800-342-AIDS.

People with HIV may also experience the following:

  • Dry cough
  • Discolored blotches inside the mouth, nose or eyelids, or on or under the skin
  • Diarrhea lasting for more than a week
  • Fatigue
  • Swollen lymph glands in the neck, groin, or armpits
  • Rapid weight loss
  • Regular night sweats or fever
  • White spots in the mouth, throat, or on the tongue

HIV/AIDS Prevention
To protect yourself from the virus, you need to understand how the disease spreads.

  • Sharing Needles Sharing needles, syringes or other equipment used to inject drugs or steroids with someone who has HIV puts you at risk. What’s more, blood and the virus can transfer to a needle or syringe that can then transfer to the next user. Since you don’t know who else has shared a needle, this practice puts you at risk. Needles used for tattoos and piercings also carry risk. If you’re getting a tattoo or piercing, make sure the needle is new.
  • Sexual Transmission Sex with an infected person is the most common way to contract HIV. People of any sexual orientation are at risk—men can infect female or male partners, as can women.To reduce your risk of infection, always use condoms.

While sexual transmission and sharing needles are the two most common ways to spread HIV, it can also be transmitted in the following ways:

  • Passed on to a Child from an Infected Mother— A mother with HIV can pass the infection on to her child through pregnancy, birth or breastfeeding . There are ways to reduce the risk of transmission during pregnancy. It is important to speak with your doctor about what options may be available to you.
  • Blood Transfusions — When you get a blood transfusion in the United States, that blood has been tested for HIV and other viruses, so that there is little to no risk of infection when you have a transfusion. However, if you get a transfusion in another country, you may be at risk.

Stopping the Spread
While scientists continue to make advances that can help people who are HIV positive live longer while they search for a cure, there are ways that you can help.

  • Use a condom when having sexual contact.
  • Get tested. Avoid sharing needles or syringes.
  • Continue to learn about the disease and share your knowledge with friends and family.

Still have questions? Ask us here for more information.

Last update: 10/15/2017

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