What You Should Know About HIV and AIDS

Anne Reese, Health and Wellness Education, Indiana University Health Center

What is HIV and AIDS?
AIDS is Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome. AIDS is caused by the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV). HIV is passed by semen, vaginal fluid and the blood of HIV-infected people. As time passes, the HIV begins to destroy the cells that defend the body. Without the cells that are a part of the immune system, the body cannot defend itself from illness. AIDS occurs when the body’s immune system has been severely damaged. At this point, a person with AIDS can get many different kinds of life-threatening infections and cancers.

Most people infected with HIV look and feel healthy for many years. When signs of HIV first appear, they may vary from person to person. Symptoms include fever, diarrhea, swollen glands, weight loss, cough, fatigue and skin infections. Because of the delay of symptoms, many people may not even know they are infected. About 1.5 million people in the United States have HIV infection and can spread the disease to others.

How do people get HIV?
HIV infection can be transmitted through sexual intercourse (vaginal, anal and oral) with an HIV-infected partner. HIV can also be transmitted through contact with HIV-infected blood, such as when sharing contaminated needles. It is also possible for an HIV-infected mother to transmit the virus to her newborn.

What does not transmit HIV?
HIV is not transmitted by saliva, sweat, tears or urine, nor by mosquitoes or other insects. HIV is not transmitted by casual contact such as hugging or touching a person with HIV, nor by coughing or sneezing. HIV is also not transmitted by sharing classroom space, swimming pools, bathrooms, food, books, or eating utensils with someone who is HIV-infected.

How safe is kissing?
Open mouth kissing that damages the mouth or lips could cause HIV to pass from an infected person’s blood to another person, entering their bloodstream through cuts or open sores in the mouth. However, it is highly unlikely that someone would become infected with HIV from open-mouthed kissing. There have been no reported cases of this type of transmission.

What is Safer Sex?

  • No sexual intercourse whether oral, vaginal or anal
  • Sex between two mutually monogamous, uninfected partners who do not share needles or syringes with anyone
  • Massage, touching and holding
  • Activities which avoid contact with semen, vaginal secretions or blood.

What about condoms?
Latex condoms help protect you from the transmission of HIV and other sexually-transmitted diseases. They greatly reduce your chance of infection but they are not 100% effective. Condom failures usually result from improper use.

Can I be tested for AIDS?
HIV testing is available through a number of agencies in Bloomington. Anonymous testing (you do not give your name or any identification) is available. Call (812) 339-1691 for more information about anonymous HIV testing.The I.U. Health Center provides confidential HIV testing. In confidential testing, your name and results become a part of your medical record. Call (812) 855-7338 for more information and confidential HIV testing.You may also call the AIDS Hotline at 1-800-342-AIDS (free call). More information is available about HIV/AIDS and other health concerns from the same office.