I Know HIV
knowing someone means learning something
knowing someone means learning something

HIV/AIDS first appeared in the United States in the early 1980s.
Five homosexual men were treated for a type of Pneumonia in Los Angeles, and subsequently two of the men died. By this point, the HIV they had obtained had progressed to AIDS, and they were diagnosed accordingly. This diagnosis came from the fact that this type of Pneumonia was only witnessed in patients with extremely weak immune systems. The men did not know each other, but the fact they were all homosexual males led doctor’s to initially name the disease Gay Related Immune Deficiency (GRID). They also hypothesized that the disease was spread sexually.

Human Immunodeficiency Virus:

  • A virus is a non-living microorganism that enters your body and affects your body, usually in a negative way.
  • A deficiency is a lack of something, and in this case it affects the immune system, which is why “Immunodeficiency” is used in the name of the disease.
  • This virus only attacks the immune systems of humans. So, to recap, HIV is a virus that weakens the immune system of human beings.
  • There are no cures for any viruses including HIV.
  • While there are vaccines for some viruses such as influenza (“the flu”) there is no viable vaccine that has been produced for HIV.
  • There are no visible symptoms for a person infected with HIV. This means you can have the virus for years and not know it, which is why TESTING is so important.

Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome:

  • A syndrome is a condition, which is characterized by a number of symptoms.
  • A deficiency is a lack of something, and in this case it affects the immune system, which is why “Immune Deficiency” is used.
  • Acquired refers to a person obtaining the syndrome, and doesn’t start with it.
  • The virus attacks the immune system and then progresses to what we call AIDS, meaning this virus causes AIDS.
  • CD4 is a glycoprotein receptor on the service of the Helper T lymphocytes and it is counted to see how many cells remain when testing for AIDS.
  • We characterize AIDS in many ways, but primarily the Centers for Disease Control states there has to be a CD4 count of below 200 per microliter of blood.
  • People do not die from AIDS. The immune system is decimated by the syndrome, which causes simple infections to take advantage of the weakened body and eventually kill it. We call these infections “opportunistic infections”.

Where did HIV come from?

There are many different theories about how HIV came about, however this is the most widely accepted theory. Both the CDC and WHO subscribe to this theory.

  • It was passed from a chimp to a human in the 1930s or 1940s while the humans were hunting.
  • While slaughtering the chimps, the human hunters were exposed to the chimpanzee blood. The blood contained Simian Immunodeficiency Virus (SIV).
  • SIV does not infect humans and HIV does not infect primates, however it is thought that eventually the virus adapted to its host.

HIV is present in what bodily fluids?

  • The virus is present in semen, including precum. This means that a HIV positive male could have sex without a condom and still infect a female if he does not ejaculate inside of her.
  • Precum contains the virus and is a lubricant that comes out of the penis before ejaculation. HIV is present in this lubricant.
  • Vaginal fluids contain the virus, so a HIV negative male can contract the virus from a HIV positive female.
  • NOTE: The virus is not present in the sperm or egg cells so it is possible to conceive a child without infecting it at conception.

  • Blood contains HIV, so if you are exposed to blood, in an open wound from and HIV positive person, you will most likely contract the virus.
  • Breast Milk contains the virus, which is why it is important that pregnant women get tested. If a mother breast-feeds a child there is over a 70 percent transmission rate from mother to child.
  • NOTE: This is a problem in Africa because mothers have to choose between feeding their child and infecting them, or trying to feed them adult food. In villages with formula, the mothers are forced to mix the formula with water containing chemical and biological pathogens. This is a problem because mothers supply the child with immunity by giving them antibodies present in breast milk. Without these antibodies, the baby will have trouble fighting of the affects of these pathogens. As a result the health ministries in East Africa advise, and the mothers choose to breast-feed their children, which exacerbates the spread of the virus.

How is HIV transmitted?

    HIV is transmitted in 3 main ways: 

  • Unprotected sex means sex without a condom (oral, anal, or vaginal).
  • These body cavities contain very thin skin layers that can easily be ruptured. During sexual activity an infected persons semen or vaginal fluid can enter this rupture and their sexual partner will contract the virus.

  • Sharing needles (Intravenous drug use, tattoos, piercings, and cutting).
  • The sharing of injection needles during drug use can transmit HIV

    The sharing of needles during tattoos and piercings can also transmit HIV. It is always best to have these done at a parlor with professionals.

    Washing needles is not enough! Make sure new needles are used.

    The sharing of razor blades during cutting can also transmit HIV.

  • Vertical transmission from mother to child (In-utero, during birth, and breast-feeding)
  • It is very rare that a mother transmits HIV to her child while the child is in-utero because the mother and child have different blood sources.

    During the birthing process it is possible for the child to contract the virus because there is blood and vaginal fluids around the child.

    However, there are medications that mother’s can take to reduce transmission to under 2%.

    Breast-feeding is by far the highest rate of transmission from mother to child. There is over a 70% transmission rate during breast-feeding.

HIV is not transmitted in these ways?

There are many misconceptions about how HIV is transmitted. These faulty assertions cause fear in the HIV negative public, which can lead to unnecessary stigma towards HIV positive populations.

  • Mosquitoes cannot transmit HIV from person to person.
  • Being a friend, a hug, or a handshake cannot transmit HIV from one person to another. We will address stigma later, however many HIV positive people have to undergo discrimination on a daily basis because of their HIV status.
  • A person cannot contract HIV from sharing a toilet with an HIV positive person.
  • HIV is present in saliva in such small quantities that it cannot be transmitted through kissing or sharing a soda.
  • Similarly, it cannot be transmitted through mucous or sweat. If someone sneezes on you, you can catch the cold, but you will not contract HIV.
  • NOTE: Earvin Magic Johnson was drafted in 1977 out of Michigan State, and was one of the best players ever for the Lakers. When he was diagnosed as being HIV positive in 1991 other NBA players did not want to play with him because they were afraid they were going to contract HIV by rubbing against him or exchanging sweat. This, as we know now, is not correct. Although Magic Johnson is still HIV positive, he is now undetectable meaning he has an extremely low virus load.

Global HIV/AIDS Statistics in 2010

  • 34 million people living with HIV (WHO, 2012)
  • 33 million people living with HIV in 2007 (CDC, 2007)
  • 22.9 million in sub-Saharan Africa (UNAIDS, 2010)
  • 3.4 million children (<15) living with HIV (WHO, 2012)
  • 2.3 million in sub-Saharan Africa (UNAIDS, 2010)
  • 1.8 million people died in 2010 as a result of AIDS (WHO, 2012)
  • 250,000 children (<15) died as a result of AIDS (WHO, 2012)
  • 260,000 in sub-Saharan Africa (UNAIDS, 2010)

United States HIV/AIDS Statistics in 2009

  • 1.2 million prevalent cases (diagnosed and undiagnosed) of people living with HIV. (CDC, 2011)
  • 20% of the people who have HIV do not know it. (CDC, 2011)
  • There were 48,100 incident cases of HIV meaning 48,100 new people were infected with HIV in 2009. (CDC, 2011)
  • In 2009, there were 8,294 HIV cases in the United States in people aged 13-24 years, which is 20% of all HIV cases that year. (CDC, 2011)

How to Stay Safe

Universal Precautions: Refers to the practice of avoiding contact with others’ bodily fluids, by means of the wearing of nonporous articles such as medical gloves, goggles and face shields.

  • Practice Abstinence (Not having sex)! It is the only way that is 100% effective in not contracting HIV through sex.
  • Birth control including birth control pills and the morning after pill will not protect against HIV/AIDS or other sexually transmitted infections.
  • Do not mix risky behavior: if you are going to consume alcohol or if you are choosing to use drugs please do not engage in risky sexual behavior.
  • The effectiveness of condom use drops precipitously when intoxicated

  • Be monogamous: have one partner if you are going to engage in sexual activity. The increase in the number of partners increases your risk to being exposed to HIV or another sexually transmitted infection.
  • ALWAYS, ALWAYS, ALWAYS…use a latex condom. Lambskin condoms are not sufficient enough to protect yourself.
  • Click here for instructions on how to use a condom.

Who’s at risk?

  • People think they are not susceptible to contracting the disease, but everyone engaging in risky behavior is vulnerable to contraction of HIV.
  • The three most vulnerable populations are black males, men who have sex with men (MSM), and populations aged 13 to 24 years.
  • Since 1985, high-risk heterosexual contact is the only transmission category, which has consistently increased until the present time.
  • People who have other sexually transmitted infections have an increased likelihood to contract HIV.
  • Additionally, sores (herpes) on or around bodily cavities increase the number of transmission sites, and therefore increase the likelihood of transmission.

Opportunistic Infections

HIV and its progression to AIDS do not kill people. They weaken the immune system so the body is unable to fight off basic infections that healthy human fights off every day.

  • Tuberculosis
  • Kaposi’s Sarcoma
  • Pneumocystis Carinii Pneumonia (PCP)
  • Hepatitis

HIV Medication

  • There are 4 main types of HIV medication that are called antiretrovirals (ARVs), and they are used at different times during the virus’ progression.
  • These drugs are often taken together in what is called a “drug cocktail”.
  • These drugs are very expensive, but vary between different geographic locations. In Colorado, ARVs can be as costly as $2,500 a month per patient, but in Washington, D.C. medications are free.
  • A common problem is the skipping of doses. When this occurs you put yourself at risk for the progression of the virus towards AIDS.
  • There are multiple side effects to these ARVs that range from diarrhea and head aches to dementia and cancer (after years and years of consumption in some cases).


  • Stigma is defined as a negative belief or feeling towards someone for a particular reason. Stigma can occur towards people for any number of reasons including religion, race, sexual orientation, and in this case people infected with HIV.
  • Adolescents infected with HIV experience clear discrimination because of their HIV status, which is very unfair and unnecessary.
  • Examples include: using different water fountains, isolation from classmates, physical confrontation, and vandalism.
  • Stigma is usually caused from a lack of information. The Kaiser Foundation conducted an identical study both in 1996 and 2006. In both cases they found:
  • 37% of Americans believed HIV could be transmitted through kissing

    22% of Americans believed HIV could be transmitted through sharing a soda.

  • These identical numbers during this ten-year span show that Americans are not being sufficiently educated about this disease.

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