If someone is HIV positive, it does not mean that he/she has developed AIDS. The virus and the disease are often referred to collectively as HIV/AIDS. HIV is the virus that causes AIDS. AIDS is the condition diagnosed in an individual when one tests positive for HIV and develops an “opportunistic” infections or when their immune system is severely affected.
HIV is spread when infected bodily fluid enters the bloodstream of someone who is not HIV positive. After exposure to the virus, the risk of infection depends on the type of exposure and the amount of virus in the infected bodily fluids. Both men and women can spread the HIV virus.
The primary routes of transmitting HIV include:
- Sexual intercourse (anal, oral or vaginal) without protection (male or female condoms) with someone who has HIV. The virus can be transmitted through any of the following bodily fluids: blood, preseminal fluid (“pre-cum”), semen, and vaginal fluid.
- Sharing needles or syringes with someone who has HIV. This may result from the injection of drugs or through use of a dirty needle for tattooing or body piercing.
- Pregnancy, birth or breastfeeding: women who have HIV can transmit the virus to their babies before, during or after the child’s birth.
While these are not the only ways one can be infected, it is important to remember that the virus is not spread through kissing, sharing food, beverages or utensils, public swimming pools, or casual contact like hugging.
Who is at risk for HIV infection?
Anyone can be infected with HIV. However, there are certain groups that experience HIV more frequently than others. In the United States, sexuality and ethnicity are risk factors for being infected with the virus. Gay and bisexual men (also known as men who have sex with men, or MSM) are at particularly higher risk for infection. Additionally, African Americans, Blacks, Latinos and Hispanics of any gender have higher rates of HIV. Individuals who use abuse drugs intravenously, as well as babies of HIV-positive mothers, are also at risk.
Important steps you can take to prevent HIV
It is very important that you avoid activities that can put you at risk of getting HIV. Key steps in preventing HIV include:
- Staying educated about HIV and AIDS
- Using latex or polyurethane condoms (male or female) when engaging in any type of sex (anal, oral, vaginal).
- Avoiding condoms made from animal products (e.g., lambskin), which do not offer the same level of protection as latex condoms
- Limiting the number of sexual partners you have
- Knowing the sexual history of all new partners before engaging in sexual activity
- Avoiding sharing needles with others and using only clean, sterile needles
- Not sharing any personal instruments with blood residue (e.g, razors)