AIDS, the Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome, is a viral disease which breaks down the body’s immune system and leads to infections and cancers that may be fatal. There are no known vaccines to prevent AIDS. AIDS is a chronic illness which is almost always fatal.
Transmission of AIDS
The World Health Organization states that AIDS is not spread by daily and routine activities such as sitting next to someone, shaking hands, or working with people. Nor is it spread by insects or insect bites. And AIDS is not spread by swimming pools, food, cups, public transportation, plates, toilets, water, air, touching, hugging, coughing or sneezing.
Transmission occurs through:
- intimate heterosexual or homosexual contact the virus can be transmitted from any infected person to his or her sexual partner, when semen, blood or vaginal fluids are exchanged.
- infected blood and blood products. This includes blood transfusions in which the blood donated either is not screened or is improperly screened for HIV antibodies.
- contaminated needles or any other HIV contaminated skin piercing instruments. This applies to acupuncture, illicit drugs, steroid injections, medical and dental procedures, ear & body piercing, and tattooing.
- an infected mother to her infant before or during delivery, or possibly while breastfeeding.
You and AIDS Overseas
If you are sexually active, USE A CONDOM. Take a supply with you. It may take time to develop the language skills and confidence necessary to purchase condoms in a new culture, and in some countries the manufacture and storage of condoms cannot be trusted. Condoms can reduce the risk of acquiring AIDS, but they do not eliminate that risk.
Getting Medical Care
If you need medical care overseas, ask your program administration for recommended physicians, hospitals and dentists. Make clear that you expect high standards of hygiene (use of disposable gloves by care givers, etc.).
While many countries such as the U.S. and parts of Europe have mandatory screening of donated blood for the AIDS virus, not all do. In some locales, ascertaining the availability of HIV screened blood and blood products may be difficult. Because of obvious uncertainties, consider these precautions:
- If you are injured or ill while abroad, avoid or postpone any blood transfusion unless it is absolutely necessary.
- If you do need blood, try to ensure that screened blood is used.
In some countries even disposable equipment is reused. In some places, if an injection is required, you can buy needles and syringes and bring them to the hospital for your own use. Avoid injections unless absolutely necessary.
The Center for Disease Control recommends that diabetics or other persons who require routine or frequent injections should carry a supply of syringes and needles sufficient to last their stay abroad. But carrying needles and syringes without a prescription may be illegal in some countries. Take a note from your doctor.
The risk of getting AIDS depends on you.
Here are some general precautions against AIDS you can follow anywhere in the world:
- Avoid the exchange of semen, blood, or vaginal fluids with anyone. Either abstain from sexual activity or practice safer sex.
- USE A CONDOM. Men and women should both carry their own condoms.
- Use water-based lubricants/jellies containing a spermicide, in addition to a condom, during vaginal or anal intercourse.
- Do not use illicit injectable drugs. Do not use needles and syringes that may have been used previously.
For Additional Information
- U.S. Department of Health and Human Services
- Pan American Health Organization