safe motherhood

What is Aids/Hiv?

AIDS stands for Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome.

Acquired - you got the disease (instead of inheriting it or it developing like diabetes or heart disease.

Immune Deficiency - something lacking or failing in your body's defense against disease system. The immune system is the part of the body that fights against germs and anything that invades our bodies.

Syndrome - a group of symptoms. Symptoms are things that are abnormal in our bodies such as fevers, sores, headaches, pain, itching and any other sign that we feel or see that is not part of everyday normal healthy life.

What is HIV?

HIV stands for the Human Immunodeficiency Virus and it is the germ that causes AIDS.

How long has AIDS been around?

We don't know for sure when AIDS began as a disease or where it began but we first noticed it in 1981.

How many people have HIV disease?

In the United States there are an estimated one million people infected with the AIDS virus at present with over 600,000 already with the diagnosis of AIDS and over 300,000 already dead from the disease. It is estimated that there are about fourteen million people worldwide who have the HIV germ inside them and by the year 2020, there may be between twenty to forty million people infected.

What is the difference between HIV and AIDS?

AIDS is the end result of infection with HIV. When you first get infected, you will most likely not have any symptoms for years. During this time you are said to be HIV Positive and you can pass the virus to other people by various ways. As time goes on, an HIV positive individual will usually begin to have mild symptoms and eventually she or he will get sicker and progress to later stage HIV Disease or AIDS with more serious symptoms. This progression may happen quickly but it usually takes an average of ten years to get to AIDS.

What is happening in the body during these ten years?

The AIDS virus is growing in your body and is slowly but steadily destroying an important part of the immune system. The main part that is affected are the T-cells.

What are T-Cells?

T-cells are a type of white blood cell that is in your body to fight against any thing that attacks the body such as bacteria and viruses. A person normally has from 500 to 1500 of these cells in a small amount of blood. In HIV positive persons, the T-cell count eventually falls below 200 and in time it goes down to below fifty and even down to zero unless the person is treated.

What happens when you lose your T-Cells?

The T-cells, whose function is to help the immune system defend against germs and other foreign invaders, are some of the most important parts of the immune system. Without the right amount of T-Cells, your body cannot defend itself and you are more likely to get infections and other problems. In other words, a person is more likely to get sick if they don't have an intact immune system.

Are there any medicines to help prevent this loss of T-Cells?

There are now many drugs that are able to slow down the progress of the AIDS virus. These medicines are keeping HIV infected people alive much longer and it appears that we may soon be able to control this deadly illness. Unfortunately, these medicines are very expensive and only a small amount of all the HIV infected people in the world can afford them.

What are the symptoms that occur first?

Early in the disease, there are no symptoms but when they do develop they are usually mild but they may last a long time. These include weight loss, recurring fevers and night sweating (usually a lot), chronic tiredness, enlarged lymph nodes, and prolonged diarrhea and/or coughing. The symptoms may be vague and they are often like symptoms of many other diseases.

What are the later symptoms?

More serious infections can occur. A common one is pneumocystis pneumonia which can be life threatening. This disease is very common in AIDS but extremely rare otherwise. Fortunately, we now have several good treatments for this pneumonia. Pneumonia is an infection of the lungs and pneumocystis is a particular type of germ that affects persons infected with the AIDS virus. Another serious and common outcome of HIV disease is Kaposi's Sarcoma which is a cancer that causes purplish bumps on the skin. Other possible outcomes of HIV disease are infection with tuberculosis, infection in the brain and many others.

How is the AIDS virus (HIV) spread from person to person?

It is transmitted in three ways.

  1. By Sex

    The virus is present in semen(this is what comes out of a man's penis when he has an orgasm), and vaginal secretions. It can be spread by anal or vaginal sex. There is some risk of spreading AIDS by oral sex but it appears to be a lower risk than by anal or vaginal sex.

    It is not spread by kissing, touching, masturbation or hugging, being in the same room with an HIV infected person.

  2. By blood and blood products.

    Intravenous drug users who share needles to inject drugs may expose themselves to the AIDS virus.

    In the past, blood transfusions were unsafe and it was possible to get the AIDS virus by this means but since 1985 all blood products in the US have been tested and the blood supply is very safe.

  3. Mother to Child spread

    A pregnant woman who is HIV positive can transmit the AIDS virus to her baby.

Can HIV disease be transmitted by other ways?

NO, not by food, mosquitoes or other insect bites, bathrooms, coughing, sneezing, shaking hands, hugging, or kissing.

Again, how is the HIV virus spread?

It is spread by unsafe sexual behavior and by sharing needles.

When was this disease first identified?

In June 1981, five Gay men in Los Angeles were found to have a rare type of lung disease (called pneumocystis Pneumonia). Shortly afterward, a group of Gay men in New York City were found to have a rare type of cancer that affected the skin and other parts of the body. These men had abnormalities in their immune system but no one knew what was causing the breakdown of the immune system. By the end of 1981, about two hundred and fifty people had this new unnamed disease and no one knew what was causing it.

By early 1983, the first cases of this disease in women were found when two women who were partners of IV drug users developed AIDS. By the end of 1983, the first cases of AIDS were discovered in Africa.

In the United States, there were 50,000 cases of AIDS by July 1989 which was eight years after the first cases were discovered. It took only two years for the next 50,000 cases to be reported. It took ten years for the first 100,000 cases of AIDS to be reported and just 18 months for the second 100,000 cases. There are over 600,000 reported cases of AIDS at this time and an estimated one to one and a half million Americans with HIV disease. In the world there are an estimated thirty million people with HIV disease now. By the year 2000 there will be about one million children who will be orphaned because their parents will have died from AIDS.

How many teenagers get HIV disease?

About twenty percent of all the people in the United States who get AIDS are between the ages of twenty and twenty nine. This means that they got the AIDS virus in their bodies when they were teenagers. We do not have good statistics about the actual rate of HIV infection in teenagers since so few teens get tested.

Where can one get more information about AIDS/HIV disease?

There is a national AIDS hotline at 1-800-342-AIDS.

Can AIDS and HIV Disease be treated?

Yes. There are currently many medicines used in the treatment of AIDS but there is no cure for it yet. It is often fatal. We have many drugs that appear to slow the progression of AIDS somewhat and we have a lot of drugs that can treat the infections and cancers that people with AIDS get.


What is the AIDS antibody test?

When the HIV virus gets into your body, it stimulates your body's immune system to produce antibodies which are chemicals that fight the HIV virus. The blood test can detect these antibodies.

Is the test accurate?

The test is very accurate but it is possible to have the test read positive when there are not any antibodies in the blood. This is called a false positive test result. If the initial test is positive, the laboratory will repeat the test twice and if necessary do an another, totally different test to confirm it.

It is also possible to have the test read out as negative when you are actually infected with the AIDS virus. This can happen when you get tested shortly after being infected with the virus. It takes a certain while for antibodies to build up in the blood and it is usually recommended that a person be checked for HIV antibodies six months after the risky contact. Most people who are infected develop antibodies within six to twelve weeks after contact with the virus.

What does it mean if the test is positive?

It means you have the HIV infection and after some time you will most likely progress to have the more serious symptoms of AIDS unless you receive treatment. We call someone infected with the AIDS virus HIV Positive. Currently there are several medicines to slow the progression of this disease such as AZT and DDC.

What should a person do if they are positive?

It's important to learn as much as you can about your disease and to find a knowledgeable health care provider to help take care of this infection. Your provider will examine you periodically and prescribe the proper treatments as necessary.

Are there any special treatments or plans that HIV positive people should do?

HIV positive individuals should live their lives in the same healthy ways that we all should, that is, we should watch our diet, get plenty of exercise and rest, cut back on alcohol and drugs and try to reduce stress. They should learn as much as they can about HIV disease and they should take an active part in the decisions that they and their health providers must make in their treatment.

Can anyone make me take the test?

No, in most every other state, a person must give written informed consent in order to be tested

What do I do when a friend or relative has AIDS?

As the AIDS epidemic continues, we will all most likely know someone with AIDS or HIV Disease. He or she may be someone close to us or they may be a less close acquaintance. The first important point to remember is you cannot get the disease through everyday routine contact. AIDS cannot be spread by touching, hugging, shaking hands or sharing the same bathroom. The next important point to remember is that people with AIDS and HIV Disease(sometimes called PWA) need all the help and support they can get. You should continue to be the friend that you were before they found out they were sick and you should offer to help them.

Just because a person is HIV positive or has AIDS does not mean that they can't carry on a fairly normal life. They go to work, play sports and get involved in the same activities that non-infected people do. If the disease progresses, they may need more help if they become weaker and are unable to do certain activities easily by themselves.

It is important that you do not intentionally avoid the person with HIV disease. It is okay to discuss the disease with him or her and you will learn a lot about life by getting involved in the care of HIV positive people. Learn as much as you can about this disease and you will see that you will be able to help your friend more. There are AIDS service organizations in most cities where you can get help.

What if the person is dying of AIDS?

Helping a person with AIDS who is dying is a very stressful situation. We do not learn to deal with death and dying very well in America and the whole subject is hardly ever talked about in our culture. It can be very frustrating to watch a person getting sicker and not being able to do much about it. With AIDS it is even more difficult to deal with since the persons infected with AIDS are usually young. Try to talk about your feelings of anger, sadness and uncertainty with others who you are close to. As you try to help the person with the disease, it is important that you think of yourself too. You cannot give the person dying of AIDS much support if you are too emotionally distressed yourself. There are many organizations that deal with AIDS and they should be used to your benefit.

As the person with AIDS gets sicker, he or she will depend more and more on others to help them with basic needs such as shopping and house cleaning and eventually they may need help with eating and cleaning themselves. You may want to learn some basic nursing skills at a local AIDS support organization or the Visiting Nurse Association. You will learn to be careful with body fluids such as urine and vomit and you will learn to use rubber gloves to protect yourself. Again, you should not worry about getting the AIDS virus if you use simple careful handling.

How do I deal with my feelings if someone close to me dies?

As mentioned above, we do not learn to deal with death and dying very well. Death is a normal part of life but because of the uncertainty of what happens after death and because of the finality of it, we have many feelings attached to it. It is normal to grieve and feel sad when someone close to us dies. Its okay to cry but not everyone cries and it is okay not to cry. If you do not feel much after the death of a loved one, it may be that you are not ready to grieve and you may be denying the feelings as a way of coping at that time. Healing after losing a friend or relative takes time and it is a period that may take weeks or sometimes even years. It is said that time is the best healer. There are no rules for the right way to mourn the loss. It is always helpful to share your sadness with your friends and sometimes it is helpful to seek help with a minister or other clergy person or with a psychologist or other counselor. In time we accept the loss and the strong feelings we had become less strong.

How to prevent getting STDs and AIDS

Basic goals for HIV/STD Prevention

1. Abstinence

Learn the necessary skills to have control over your life. If you don't really feel you are mature enough to handle having sex and the possible problems that it can bring(e.g.. possible pregnancy and STDs), then you should learn how to not get yourself into a situation where you are out of control. Learn how to say no.

Don't have sex until you are old enough and smart enough to prevent getting these diseases. Abstinence is the only real way of not getting AIDS and STDs. Abstinence means not having sex. Just because it seems that all your friends are having sex does not mean that they are telling the truth. The fact is that at age fifteen, over 80% of girls have not had any sex and of all kids under seventeen, 40% of boys and 60% of girls have never had sex. If it doesn't seem like it is right to have sex then it may not be the right time.

Learn how to communicate with your partner . This is not always very easy to do. In America we have a hard time taking about sex and it can feel awkward and uncomfortable. It is important to think about these important issues in advance and to practice dealing with them. Practice saying no. Learning to say no gives a person a lot of power in their lives and it is a very grown-up way of handling things.

Get help with these issues wherever you can. Try your parents first. If they haven't already started to talk to you about these issues it is just because they also feel uncomfortable talking about them too. We are all in need of help when it comes to talking about these sensitive subjects. There are usually people at school who have a lot of experience talking about this and they are just waiting for you to come into their office. School guidance counselors and teachers are there only to help you and you may want to take advantage of this resource.

In America there is a lot of pressure to have sex. We are shown sex on TV, in the movies and in advertisements. The changes that teenagers bodies are going through makes you think about it more than when you were a kid.Remember that having sex is a serious undertaking and you should think of the possible problems that it can bring. Having sex is not kid stuff. It is an adult activity and it is serious business in these times. Getting yourself or someone else pregnant is a problem but getting or giving a disease that will kill you is a much bigger problem.

2. Use protection

If you decide that you will have sex, you have to be protected. Always use protection if you do have sex. This means you should learn how to use condoms properlyand how to refuse to have unprotected sex. Having sex is a mature activity and you must be responsible if you have chosen to do it. Latex condoms have been shown to be protective against STDs including AIDS. It should be noted that even condoms are not foolproof and they may break or they may not be used properly.(see section later on how to use a condom) They are very effective if used in the right way. In other words, using condoms will help to protect you but they are not an absolute guaranteed foolproof method of being safe. They will most definitely help to protect you but the only 100% method to avoid getting any sexually transmitted disease(STD) is by not having sex. Using condoms properly and consistently will have the added benefit of preventing an unwanted pregnancy. Remember that over one million teenagers get pregnant every year in the United States.

3. Limit the number of sex partners you have.

It is just common sense that the more partners that you have sex with, the higher chance there is of meeting someone with these diseases. If you have already had sex in the past with someone, and you are not currently in a relationship, it does not mean that you should be having sex with someone now. It is perfectly normal not to be having sex with anyone at any given time. In the old days, it was common to have sex with just one person in a lifetime. Actually, it is still practiced in our society and in others but it is not well known. It is okay not to be having sex with anyone and it is okay to be saving yourself for that one special someone if you want. Abstinence (not having sex) is okay.

4. Avoid getting STDs(sexually transmitted diseases) and treat them promptly if you do get one.

If you get one STD then you could have just as easily have gotten another including AIDS. Also if you have an STD it makes an opening in your skin or an inflammation that may make it more likely for the AIDS virus to get into your body.

5. Keep control of your life and what you do.

Don't get yourself into situations that you may lose control (e.g.. getting drunk or using crack or other drugs that may affect your judgment). Without being able to make wise decisions, a fatal mistake may be made.

Although some teenagers don't think a lot about living to an old age (I didn't when I was younger), you just may make it to thirty or forty years or older and your body has to stay in shape to do it. Taking care of your body is important and that means avoiding unnecessary diseases if possible. A disease that you catch as a teenager can affect you for the rest of your life. Be smart! Don't let yourself get into a situation that you will regret someday. You will someday decide to have sex even though you know you are not yet ready to have a child or to get a sexually transmitted disease. You have to know how to avoid getting pregnant or get an STD.

Get help if you are having trouble dealing with growing up and the changes that it brings. We all go though adolescence and it was not easy for any of us. Life is not easy and we can all use all the help we can get. Do not be afraid to look and to ask for help. Your parents may be the first ones to look to or maybe a teacher or guidance counselor at school. There is usually a friend or relative or someone at your school that you can talk to. Try to think about what can happen to you before you get yourself in an uncomfortable situation. If you don't let yourself get into a tight spot you will not have to think about how to get yourself out of it. If you have already made some mistakes and you do have problems, you have to be strong enough to get help. There are people out there who care. You just have to look for them.

Talking more freely about sex, birth control and how to protect yourself from STDs can be learned. It is not easy for anyone but it can be done.


Anatomy and Physiology of the Sexual Organs

How to Self examine for STD's

A Aids/Hiv Overview