HIV 101:

HIV
Human Immunodeficiency Virus, or HIV, is a virus that attacks the body's immune system. Over time, the virus weakens a person's defenses against disease, leaving them vulnerable to many infections and cancers that would not normally develop in healthy people. Some people with HIV infection have no symptoms at all, some have mild health problems, and others have full-blown AIDS.

AIDS
Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS) is the end stage of HIV infection. AIDS means HIV has seriously damaged the immune system. Often the person has been diagnosed with a life-threatening infection or cancer. It can take 10 years or more from the time of initial infection with HIV to a diagnosis of AIDS. On average, people with AIDS used to lie approximately two to four years after diagnosis. Now with new treatments, people are living a lot longer.

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HIV Transmission
HIV is transmitted when infected blood, semen, vaginal fluids, or breast milk enter the body through the mucous membranes of the anus, vagina, penis (urethra), or mouth, or through cuts, sores, or abrasions on the skin. Anyone who is infected can transmit the virus, whether or not they have any symptoms of AIDS.
HIV is spread most commonly by unprotected sexual intercourse.
Anal and vaginal sex are the riskiest. There are a small but growing number of reported cases of HIV transmission through oral sex. With each of these practices, the receptive partner is at greatest risk. In heterosexual sex, women are generally at greater risk than men.
HIV is also spread by sharing needles or syringes to inject drugs.
People who share the same needle or syringe can transmit HIV in the small amounts of blood that remain in the used needle or syringe. It is also risky to share the "cookers" or cotton used to prepare drugs for injection. Rinsing needles and syringes with water and bleach reduces the risk of transmission.
HIV is spread from an infected mother to her infant.
About 1 in 5 babies born to HIV-infected women are HIV infected themselves. The virus can be transmitted during pregnancy, birth or through breast-feeding. However, recent evidence shows that taking AZT during pregnancy reduces the risk of vertical transmission by 2/3, suggesting that all at risk women should consider being tested.
Who is at risk from HIV infection?
Anyone can become infected with HIV. At highest risk are men who have sex with other men and people who share needles used for drug injection. Heterosexual contact accounts for a growing number of reported AIDS cases especially among women. About 750,000 persons are believed to be infected with HIV in the United States, including approximately 10,000 people here in King County.
How is HIV infection prevented?
The only way to completely avoid sexual exposure to HIV is to abstain from all sexual activity with other people. The next most certain way is to have sex with only one uninfected partner who only has sex with you. This strategy works only if the HIV test is accurate (done six months after your last risky contact) and if your partner is faithful. For people who have multiple sexual partners, reducing the number of partners and knowing more about their sexual histories are important factors in helping to reduce risks, but practicing safer sex is essential.
Safer Sex and Condoms
Safer Sex means always assuming that your partner could be HIV-infected, and never allowing his or her risky body fluids (blood, semen, vaginal fluids, and breast milk) to enter your body. Touching, dry kissing, body rubbing, and mutual masturbation are the safest sexual activities. Safer penetrative sex means always using a latex barrier for anal, vaginal, and oral intercourse. This includes using a condom on a man or barrier protection such as plastic wrap, a dental dam, or cut condom for oral sex on a woman and for oral-anal contact.

Do condoms provide 100% protection?

No. To be completely safe from HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases you must abstain from sex. But, for people who are sexually active, condoms are highly effective if used consistently and correctly. When condoms do fail, it is most often because of improper use. Following these basic rules will further reduce the small chance of condom failure:

1. Use latex (rubber) condoms. These are preferable to "natural skin" condoms, which may have tiny holes that can allow the virus to pass through; however, even natural skin condoms are preferable to no condoms.

2. Choose a condom that fits. Condoms come in different sizes, shapes, and styles. Experiment with different condoms and practice putting them on before intercourse.

3. Open and handle condoms carefully. Never use a condom in damaged package or one that is past its expiration date. Do not store condoms in hot or sunny places.

4. Use plenty of water-based lubricant to reduce the friction that can cause breakage. Never use an oil-based lubricant with a latex condom. Oil-based lubricants like Vaseline, hand cream, and mineral oil rapidly break down latex and can allow the virus to pass through. Water-based lubricants include K-Y Jelly, Slippery Stuff, ForPlay, and most contraceptive jellies. Lubricants containing the spermicide nonoxynol-9 may add extra protection in the event of breakage, but some people are sensitive to this ingredient and can develop rashes or sores.

5. Put the condom on after erection but before insertion. Leave some room at the tip for the discharged semen (some condoms have a reservoir tip for this). It is important to pinch the tip as you unroll to be sure there is no air bubble that could pop under pressure. If the penis is uncircumcised, pull back the foreskin before unrolling the condom all the way down to the base of the penis.

6. After intercourse, withdraw the penis while still erect, holding the base of the condom to prevent its slipping off or spilling semen. Remove the condom and wash the penis.

7. Use a condom only once and dispose of it in the garbage, not in the toilet. Never reuse a condom.

8. Use a new condom EVERY TIME.