HIV and AIDS
The human immuno-deficiency virus (HIV) causes a breakdown in the body's immune system which leaves a person incapable of fighting infection and disease. AIDS, or Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome, is the final stage of a progressive illness caused by HIV. Having HIV does not necessarily mean one has AIDS; a person can be a carrier of the virus and not manifest AIDS symptoms. HIV-infected people can develop AIDS. It may take many months or years for a person to develop AIDS after becoming infected with the virus.
Anyone, any age, male or female, who engages in unsafe sex, shares needles or receives blood from someone infected with HIV is at risk. The virus which causes AIDS is transmitted through the exchange of bodily fluids, especially blood, semen and vaginal secretions. The virus enters the body through mucous membranes or an open cut or sore or can be injected directly into the bloodstream. HIV can be transmitted between sexual partners during anal, oral or vaginal sex; through the sharing of contaminated needles; and from mother to child during pregnancy, birth or breast feeding.
Symptoms and Diagnosis
Most people infected with HIV show no symptoms for months or years after becoming infected, and many of the signs and symptoms associated with HIV infection and AIDS are not unusual among HIV-negative college students. A person infected with the HIV may have no symptoms or a combination of symptoms including nausea; diarrhea; unexplained weight loss or fatigue; swollen glands; fever, shaking, or chills lasting more than several weeks; blurred vision; severe headaches; easy bruising; and pink to purple blotches, flat or raised, usually painless, found beneath the skin or mucous membranes such as the nose, mouth, eyes, or rectum. Symptoms of an opportunistic infection (the most common of which is Pneumocystis Carinii Pneumonia--a lung infection) may also signal a poorly functioning immune system. Once these symptoms appear, AIDS may be diagnosable by a health care professional.
Prevention of HIV: What is safe? What is risky?
As HIV is spreading at an extremely alarming rate, and no cure has been found, prevention is crucial. If you do not have anal, oral, or vaginal intercourse, and if you never share needles, you have almost no risk of becoming infected with HIV. Clearly, total abstinence is the safest way to avoid sexual exposure to HIV, but it is possible to be sexually active and remain healthy. If you do choose to engage in sexual activity, safer sex practices can reduce your risk for HIV infection.
For a list of organizations from which more information on HIV and AIDS is available, please see the local resources page.
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