What is HIV?
HIV stands for Human Immunodeficiency Virus. The virus itself is not a disease, but it attacks and gradually destroys the T cells in the human immune system. T cells are the white blood cells that help the body fight infection.
Eventually the T cells become so weakened they can no longer fight off common organisms which would easily be overcome by the immune system of a healthy person.
When an HIV-infected individual comes down with one of a specific group of rare illnesses, or when his T cell count falls below 200 or 14 %, a doctor will recognize that his patient may be suffering from AIDS, and a blood test will be taken.
AIDS is an acronym for Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome. It is not a single disease, but rather a cluster of illnesses to which persons with HIV are vulnerable.
At this time, there is no known way to rid the body of the HIV virus. Once you become infected, you have it for life.
The HIV virus is transmitted through contact with bodily fluids of an infected person. Healthy, intact skin is an efficient barrier against the virus. It must enter through an open sore, a cut, or through mucus membranes.
These body fluids have high concentrations of HIV:
* vaginal fluid
* breast milk
* other body fluids which contain blood.
How is HIV transmitted?
The virus may be transmitted through unprotected vaginal, anal or oral sex. It can easily pass through the mucus membranes of the genitals, the rectum or the mouth, or through canker sores or bleeding gums.
Sharing needles to inject drugs is a very efficient way to transmit HIV. It can pass directly from the infected person’s bloodstream into that of an uninfected individual.
Tattoos and piercing procedures with unsterilized equipment may also result in HIV infection.
In a health-care setting or at an accident scene, if the blood of an HIV positive person comes into contact with a cut or open sore on the skin of another person, infection is possible.
It can be transmitted from an infected mother to her child before or during birth and through breast milk.
Health care workers are cautioned to avoid direct contact with the fluid surrounding the brain and spinal cord, the fluid surrounding bone joints, and the fluid surrounding an unborn baby, when the patient’s blood tests are HIV positive.
Contact with the saliva, tears, sweat, urine, feces, or vomit of an infected person has never caused transmission of the virus. The only possible danger would be if there was blood present in any of these substances.
HIV and AIDS infections are present in people of every age-level and in every segment of society today. The person next to you on the bus, in the grocery store line-up, or playing with your child in the school yard may be infected. It’s important that everyone knows, and that young people are informed about this dreadful disease and exactly how it is transmitted.
“It is bad enough that people are dying of AIDS, but no one should die of ignorance.” Elizabeth Taylor