HIV & AIDS:
HIV (Human Immunodeficiency Virus) is the virus that causes AIDS (Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome.) The virus enters the body and attacks the immune system, the body's defense against illnesses and diseases. Once the immune system has been severely weakened by the HIV virus, which can be determined by a blood test or the development of an AIDS related infection, you are diagnosed with having AIDS.
It usually takes years for HIV to lead to AIDS. Most people have few, if any, symptoms for several years after they are infected. People who appear perfectly healthy may have the virus, without knowing it, and pass it on to others.
There are three main ways to give or get the HIV virus. The first is through unprotected sex (sex without a condom) that involves anal, vaginal or oral penetration. The second is by sharing "works" (needles and syringes, cookers, cottons and water) when injecting drugs or other substances. The third way is through breast-feeding.
Blood transfusions use to be another way to get the virus, but that rarely occurs now. You can't get HIV through kissing, mutual masturbation, or by getting another person's semen/cum or vaginal fluids on your skin. You can't get HIV from tears, saliva or sweat. You also can't get HIV through casual contact such as a hug or handshake, or from objects like forks, knifes, phones or toilet seats.
Who's At Risk?:
Anyone can get HIV - young and old, men and women, straight, gay and bisexual, rich and poor, and all racial and ethnic groups Your risk comes from what you do, and who you do it with - that is, how likely it is the person you have sex or share needles with is infected.
Think about what you find pleasurable about sex, where, and with whom. Consider what risks are involved, and whether those will worry you later. Then try to think about how you might lower the risks while holding on to the pleasure. Some people have decided not to have sex with people they don't know well, or made certain kinds of sex off limits. Some have reduced the number of their sexual partners. Only you can decide what risks are worth taking and what risks are not.
Staying Safer - Tools of the Trade:
1. Using a new, clean needle is by far the best protection against the virus if you are shooting drugs. Some states, including New York, have needle exchange programs (where you can get free, clean needles) or needles for sale in drugstores.
2. Latex condoms ("rubbers") prevent HIV infection. Using a condom may not always be easy, but it can save your life or someone else's. When used right, condoms seldom break, tear, or slip.
3. Plastic wrap and dental dams stop HIV when used for oral sex on a woman or for oral-anal sex. Dental dams are latex squares available in medical supply stores and from some adult shops.
4. The "female condom" is a plastic sheath that can be inserted in the vagina or anus for protection against HIV. The female condom can be inserted up to 8 hours before sex, has rings at both ends to hold it in place, and can be lubricated with oil-based lubricants that stay wet longer.
In Our Own Voices has free condoms, lube and other safer sex supplies.
To Test or Not to Test:
It can be scary to consider, but taking the HIV test is one of the best ways to stay healthy. Finding out that you have HIV can be an important step toward taking care of your health and planning for the future. Learning that you are HIV negative can help you figure out how to stay that way.
Standard HIV tests look for HIV antibodies, which are cells the body makes after HIV enters the blood. It can take up to three months to make enough antibodies so that they will show up on the test, although in most cases, infection can be detected in four weeks. If an infected person tests too soon during this "window period", the HIV test may not find infection, but the person can infect others.
Where Can I Get Tested?
In many states, public clinics offer a free, anonymous test, which means they do not take your name. Private clinics and doctors also give the test, and they can promise to keep your name "confidential," or allow you to use a name without showing identification. "Confidential" means that while they are required to tell their local health departments the names of all persons who test HIV-positive, they will not otherwise release your name without your consent. Call 518-432-4188 to find a location for a free HIV test.
What About Treatment?
People with HIV or AIDS can do a number of things to stay healthy, which is why it's important to know your status. Although there is no treatment that cures HIV, drugs are now available that can prevent AIDS-related pneumonia and other serious diseases; other medications help the body fight the virus itself. However, many of these drugs may have unintended, harmful side-effects.