How to Prevent Harmful Infections

Preventing AIDS

AIDS, or Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome, is caused by a viral infection (HIV) that wreaks havoc on the body's immune system. The following information will help you protect yourself against HIV and AIDS.

AIDS Information

Human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) causes AIDS, which is the term used to describe the later, potentially more serious, stages of HIV infection.

HIV damages the immune system and destroys the body's CD4 T lymphocytes (T cells), one of many types of white blood cells the body uses to fight disease. T cells help the immune system "identify" foreign organisms that should be attacked. Thus, when the T cells are destroyed, it's like being defended by a leaderless army that is easily defeated.

A person can be infected with HIV for ten years or even longer without showing any symptoms. However, in most cases, during that time the virus is attacking the immune system and destroying T cells.

By the time HIV damages enough cells to bring on full-blown AIDS, many of the typical symptoms can be present: weight loss, sporadic fevers, fatigue, swollen lymph nodes, diarrhea, and opportunistic infections such as certain types of pneumonia. Rare cancers and infections of the kidneys, digestive system, and brain can also develop.

HIV is passed from person to person by direct contact with blood or other body fluids through activities like unprotected vaginal, anal, or oral sexual contact with an infected person or through sharing syringes or needles during intravenous drug use or tattooing. HIV-infected mothers can transmit the virus to their children during pregnancy, during childbirth, or through breast milk.

Before 1985, HIV was passed through blood transfusions. Today, however, according to the American Red Cross, donated blood is routinely screened for HIV, making the risk of acquiring HIV through a blood transfusion less than one in 1.5 million.

A great deal of progress has been made in the nearly 30 years since HIV and AIDS were first recognized. Although HIV infection is a terminal illness with no cure or vaccine, people today can live with HIV for years, and they might not develop AIDS, thanks to a combination of medications. With treatment, HIV/AIDS can be considered a chronic disease like high blood pressure or diabetes in many people.

However, HIV infection is a major threat in the developing world, where treatment is often unavailable. According to the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS, 24.5 million of the 38.6 million people in the world who are infected with HIV live in sub-Saharan Africa.

Who's at Risk for AIDS?

People who share needles for intravenous drug use, tattooing, or body piercing have a higher risk of contracting HIV, as do those who have unprotected sex. As mentioned earlier, children born to HIV-infected mothers are also at risk of contracting the virus.

Defensive Measures Against HIV

HIV cannot be spread through casual contact. This means you can't contract HIV from someone who is infected with the disease by touching common surfaces, hugging, crying, or even kissing with a closed mouth (according to the available scientific evidence, the risk of transmitting HIV even through open-mouth kissing is very low). There are also ways you can protect yourself from this virus:

  • According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), one of the best ways to avoid HIV and AIDS is to abstain from sexual intercourse or to keep sexual activity within the confines of a long-term, monogamous relationship where both partners have been tested for HIV (and it's a good idea to be tested for other sexually transmitted diseases, too).
  • If you do have sex, use a condom.
  • Don't share hygiene items that may come into contact with blood, such as a toothbrush or razor.
  • If you are getting a tattoo or a body piercing, don't share needles. Be sure you are working with a reputable tattoo artist or piercer who follows strict sanitary guidelines.
  • Anyone who uses intravenous drugs or receives any kind of injection should use a clean syringe each time. Never share syringes because infections, including HIV, can be passed among people through them.
  • If you are pregnant or would like to become pregnant, talk with your physician about getting an HIV test. If you test positive, there are medications that can reduce the chance of passing HIV to your baby.
  • If you're HIV-positive, tell your sexual partners about your infection so they can be tested.

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This information is solely for informational purposes. IT IS NOT INTENDED TO PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. Neither the Editors of Consumer Guide (R), Publications International, Ltd., the author nor publisher take responsibility for any possible consequences from any treatment, procedure, exercise, dietary modification, action or application of medication which results from reading or following the information contained in this information. The publication of this information does not constitute the practice of medicine, and this information does not replace the advice of your physician or other health care provider. Before undertaking any course of treatment, the reader must seek the advice of their physician or other health care provider.