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AIDS: how to reduce your risk of catching it.

What is AIDS?

AIDS (acquired immunodeficiency syndrome) is a disease caused by a virus called HIV (human immunodeficiency virus). HIV attacks the body's immune system. A healthy immune system is what keeps people from getting sick.

When people have AIDS, their bodies can't fight disease. They get sick easily and have trouble getting well. They usually die from an infection or cancer that doesn't get better, even with the best care.

How do people catch AIDS?

HIV can only be passed from person to person through body fluids, like blood, semen and vaginal fluid. The most common ways to catch AIDS are:

1. By having unprotected anal, vaginal or oral sex with an infected person.

2. By sharing needles and syringes for injecting drugs with an infected person.

You're also at risk if you have had sex or shared needles with someone in one of the groups listed above. Children born to infected mothers can also become infected during pregnancy.

Should I be tested for HIV?

You should consider getting tested for HIV infection if you think you are at risk. Talk to your family doctor about the concerns you have. He or she can help you decide.

When should I be tested?

Most HIV antibody tests done by your doctor are accurate if you have them done three months after you think you may have been infected. The blood test for HIV works by looking for antibodies to the virus. These antibodies are made by the body after HIV infection. So the test isn't accurate until the virus has been in the body long enough for antibodies to be made.

What contact is safe?

HIV can't live very long outside of the body, so you can't catch it through casual contact. You can't catch the virus by touching, shaking hands, hugging, swimming in a public pool, giving blood, or using hot tubs, public toilets, telephones, doorknobs or water fountains. You also can't catch it from food, mosquitoes or other insects.

How can I avoid getting AIDS?

The best ways to protect yourself from getting AIDS are to:

* Not have sex with a person who is infected or is having sex with others.

* Practice "safer" sex if you do have sex.

* Not share needles and syringes.

You can't tell who's infected with HIV by how they look. It takes an average of eight years for symptoms to develop after being infected with HIV. So even people who don't look or feel sick can give you AIDS.

What is "safer" sex?

No sex is completely safe. The safest kind of sex is sex between two people who don't have HIV infection, are faithful to one another and don't abuse injectable drugs. If you have any doubts about whether your partner is infected or whether he or she is not having sex with anyone else at all, use latex condoms (rubbers) every time you have sex.

Never let someone else's blood, semen, urine, vaginal fluid or feces get into your anus, vagina or mouth. Latex condoms should be used during all sex acts, including anal, vaginal and oral sex.

Even latex condoms are not 100% effective. How well they work depends on if you use them right. Follow the directions on the package.

Besides using a latex condom, it's also good to use contraceptive creams, foams or jellies containing the spermicide (sperm-killer) called nonoxynol-9. This spermicide may kill HIV as well as sperm. The spermicide works best when put in the vagina, rather than just in the condom.

Why is sharing needles risky?

Sharing needles and syringes is risky because a little bit of blood gets into them when they are used. That's all it takes to pass HIV to someone else who uses the needle or syringe.

If you abuse injectable drugs, get into a program to help you quit. Ask your family doctor to help you find the right program for you. In the meantime, don't share needles or syringes.

If you do share needles and syringes, clean them twice with bleach and water to help kill HIV. Draw bleach up into the syringe and needle, then squirt it out. Do the same with water. Do both steps again.

For more information about AIDS, contact the National AIDS Information Clearinghouse at 800-458-5231.

Risk factors for AIDS

* Have had sex with a prostitute (man or woman).

* Are a man and have had sex with a man.

* Have had multiple sex partners.

* Have had a sexually transmitted disease (for example, gonorrhea, syphilis or herpes).

* Have had sex for drugs or money.

* Have shared needles to use drugs.

* Have had a blood transfusion or received blood products between 1977 and 1985.

* Are heterosexual and were born in a country where AIDS is common in heterosexuals, such as in Haiti.

Tips on using condoms

* Latex condoms should be used. Condoms made from natural membranes, like sheep gut, aren't as good because HIV is small enough to get through the tiny pores of these condoms.

* The latex condom should be put on an erect penis and unrolled to the base of the penis before any contact.

* A space should be left at the end of the condom to catch semen. Air pockets should be removed by pressing the air out toward the base.

* Only water-based lubricants should be used. Oil-based lubricants, such as petroleum jelly (Vaseline), mineral oil, cold cream and massage oils, can damage the latex.

* After ejaculation, the penis should be withdrawn while still erect. Hold the condom against the base of the penis so it doesn't slip off.

* Don't reuse condoms.

This brochure provides a general overview on this topic and may not apply to everyone. To find out if this brochure applies to you and to get information on this subject, talk to your family doctor.
COPYRIGHT 1992 American Academy of Family Physicians
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1992 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Publication:Pamphlet by: American Academy of Family Physicians
Article Type:Pamphlet
Date:Jan 1, 1992
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