Although HIV (human immunodeficiency virus) and AIDS (acquired immunodeficiency syndrome) pose a higher risk for some communities, everyone can reduce their risk by understanding the definitions of HIV and AIDS, and how HIV is and is not transmitted.
“A person can have HIV [a sexually transmitted infection (STI)] without developing AIDS, but it is not possible to have AIDS without first having HIV.”1
“HIV is a virus spread through certain body fluids that attacks the body’s immune system, specifically the CD4 cells, often called T cells. Over time, HIV can destroy so many of these cells that the body can’t fight off infections and disease. These special cells help the immune system fight off infections. Untreated, HIV reduces the number of CD4 cells (T cells) in the body. This damage to the immune system makes it harder and harder for the body to fight off infections and some other diseases. Opportunistic infections or cancers take advantage of a very weak immune system and signal that the person has AIDS.”2 The first documented cases in the U.S. were reported in 1981.
There are no cures for HIV or AIDS, but “someone diagnosed with HIV and treated before the disease is far advanced can live nearly as long as someone who does not have HIV.”3
“HIV isn’t spread through saliva (spit), so you CAN’T get HIV from kissing, sharing food or drinks, or using the same fork or spoon. HIV is also not spread through hugging, holding hands, coughing, or sneezing. And you can’t get HIV from a toilet seat.”4
Proper condom use is one way to prevent contracting HIV during sexual activity.
The sourced articles below should provide more information on HIV and AIDS. For information on other sexually transmitted infections and diseases, also see the SexEd.net Topic STD.
Footnotes: 1. “HIV vs. AIDS: What is the difference?” medicalnewstoday.com, 5/31/2018; 2. “HIV/AIDS Basics,” cdc.gov, 7/3/2018; 3. “General HIV Information,” cdc.gov, accessed 4/11/2020; 4. “HIV & AIDS,” plannedparenthood.org, accessed 3/18/2019
- How Do I Avoid Getting HIV During Sex?
“Some sexual activities are safer than others when it comes to getting HIV. These activities are ‘no risk’ — they’ve never caused a reported case of HIV: masturbating; touching your partner’s genitals; rubbing your bodies together (dry humping); kissing; having oral sex with a condom or dental dam; using clean sex toys …
– These activities are ‘lower risk’ — they’ve only caused a few reported cases of HIV (out of millions): ‘French’ or deep kissing (if the person with HIV has sores or bleeding in their mouth); vaginal sex with a condom and/or PrEP [‘Pre-exposure prophylaxis, or PrEP, is a way for people who do not have HIV but who are at substantial risk of getting it to prevent HIV infection by taking a pill every day’ (cdc.gov, 11/1/2018)]; anal sex with a condom and/or PrEP; oral sex without a condom or dental dam …
– These activities are ‘high risk’ — millions of people get HIV this way: vaginal sex without a condom or PrEP; anal sex without a condom or PrEP …
It’s easier for HIV to get into your body if you have sores, cuts, or openings in your skin that semen (cum), vaginal fluids, or blood may get into. So don’t have sex if you have a herpes outbreak or other infections. Having other STDs makes you more likely to get HIV, so it’s a good idea to get tested for STDs regularly.”
Planned Parenthood Federation of America Inc., plannedparenthood.org, accessed on 3/19/2019
- How Do You Get HIV?
“HIV isn’t spread through saliva (spit), so you CAN’T get HIV from kissing, sharing food or drinks, or using the same fork or spoon. HIV is also not spread through hugging, holding hands, coughing, or sneezing. And you can’t get HIV from a toilet seat. A long time ago, some people got HIV from infected blood transfusions. But now, giving or getting blood in medical centers is totally safe. Doctors, hospitals, and blood donation centers don’t use needles more than once, and donated blood is tested for HIV and other infections.”
Planned Parenthood Federation of America Inc., plannedparenthood.org, accessed on 3/18/2019
- A Timeline Of HIV And AIDS
“1981 – June 5: The U.S. Center for Disease Control (CDC) publishes an article in its Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR): Pneumocystis Pneumonia—Los Angeles. The article describes cases of a rare lung infection, Pneumocystis carinii pneumonia(PCP), in five young, white, previously healthy gay men in Los Angeles. … June 5: The same day that the MMWR is published, New York dermatologist Dr. Alvin Friedman-Kien calls CDC to report a cluster of cases of a rare and unusually aggressive cancer—Kaposi’s Sarcoma (KS)—among gay men in New York and California. … By year’s end, there is a cumulative total of 337 reported cases of individuals with severe immune deficiency in the United States—321 adults/adolescents and 16 children under age 13. Of those cases, 130 are already dead by December 31. … 1982 – May 11: The New York Times publishes the first mention of the term ‘GRID’ (Gay-Related Immune Deficiency), which some researchers are using to describe the new epidemic. The term will deepen the public perception that AIDS affects only gay men. … May 31: The Los Angeles Times publishes the first front-page story on AIDS in the mainstream press: ‘Mysterious Fever Now an Epidemic.’ … September 24: CDC uses the term ‘AIDS’ (Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome) for the first time in a new MMWR, and releases the first case definition for AIDS: ‘A disease at least moderately predictive of a defect in cell-mediated immunity, occurring in a person with no known cause for diminished resistance to that disease.’ … December 10: … a 20-month-old white infant who required multiple blood transfusions at birth has developed unexplained cellular immunodeficiency and opportunistic infections. Donor tracing reveals that one of the baby’s blood donors died of AIDS in August. … 1983 – November 22-25: The World Health Organization holds its first meeting to assess the global AIDS situation and begins international surveillance. … 1984 – April 23: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Margaret Heckler announces that Dr. Robert Gallo and his colleagues at the National Cancer Institute have found the cause of AIDS , a retrovirus they have labeled HTLV-III. … 1985 – August 27: Ryan White, an Indiana teenager who contracted AIDS through contaminated blood products used to treat his hemophilia, is refused entry to his middle school. His family’s protracted legal battles to protect Ryan’s right to attend school call national attention to the issue of AIDS, and Ryan chooses to speak out publicly on the need for AIDS education. … December 19: A Los Angeles Times poll finds that a majority of Americans favor quarantining people who have AIDS. By year’s end, the United Nations states that at least one HIV case has been reported from each region of the world . … 1987 – March 31: President Ronald Reagan and French Prime Minister Jacques Chirac end an international scientific dispute when they announce that researchers from the two countries will share credit for discovery of the AIDS virus. … May 31: President Reagan makes his first public speech about AIDS … June 24: President Reagan signs an Executive Order creating the first Presidential Commission on AIDS … August 18: FDA sanctions the first human testing of a candidate vaccine against HIV. … 2015 – December 21: The U.S. Food and Drug Administration announces it will lift its 30-year-old ban on all blood donations by men who have sex with men and institute a policy that allows them to donate blood if they have not had sexual contact with another man in the previous 12 months.”
U.S. Department of Health & Human Services and supported by the Secretary’s Minority AIDS Initiative Fund (SMAIF), hiv.gov, accessed on 3/18/2019
- Estimated New HIV Infections
“Approximately 38,700 people became newly infected with HIV in the United States in 2016. After about 5 years of substantial declines, the number of annual HIV infections began to level off in 2013, to about 39,000 infections per year. CDC estimates that the decline in HIV infections has plateaued because effective HIV prevention and treatment are not adequately reaching those who could most benefit from them. These gaps remain particularly troublesome in rural areas and in the South and among disproportionately affected populations like blacks/African Americans and Hispanics/Latinos.”
U.S. Government website managed by the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services and supported by the Secretary’s Minority AIDS Initiative Fund (SMAIF), hiv.gov, 3/13/2019
- Second Patient Free Of HIV After Stem-Cell Therapy
“A person with HIV seems to be free of the virus after receiving a stem-cell transplant that replaced their white blood cells with HIV-resistant versions. The patient is only the second person ever reported to have been cleared of the virus using this method. But researchers warn that it is too early to say that they have been cured.”
Matthew Warren, nature.com, 3/5/2019
- HIV In The United States And Dependent Areas
HIV Diagnoses: In 2017, 38,739 people received an HIV diagnosis in the US. The annual number of new HIV diagnoses remained stable between 2012 and 2016. … Gay and bisexual men are the population most affected by HIV. In 2017, gay and bisexual men accounted for 66% (25,748) of all HIV diagnoses and 82% of diagnoses among males. … In 2017, heterosexuals accounted for 24% of HIV diagnoses. … In the United States, 1,008,929 people were living with diagnosed HIV infection in 2016. … In 2016, there were 15,807 deaths among people with diagnosed HIV in the United States. These deaths may be due to any cause.”
Division of HIV/AIDS Prevention, National Center for HIV/AIDS, Viral Hepatitis, STD, and TB Prevention, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, cdc.gov, 1/29/2019
- HIV Treatment: The Basics
“-Antiretroviral therapy (ART) is the use of HIV medicines to treat HIV infection. People on ART take a combination of HIV medicines (called an HIV treatment regimen) every day.
– ART is recommended for everyone who has HIV. People with HIV should start ART as soon as possible. ART can’t cure HIV, but HIV medicines help people with HIV live longer, healthier lives. ART also reduces the risk of HIV transmission.
– A main goal of ART is to reduce a person’s viral load to an undetectable level. An undetectable viral load means that the level of HIV in the blood is too low to be detected by a viral load test. People with HIV who maintain an undetectable viral load have effectively no risk of transmitting HIV to their HIV-negative partner through sex.
– Before starting ART, people with HIV should talk to their health care provider about possible side effects of HIV medicines and potential drug interactions between HIV medicines or between HIV medicines and other medicines a person is taking.
– Overall, the benefits of HIV medicines far outweigh the risk of side effects. In addition, newer HIV regimens cause fewer side effects than regimens used in the past.”
AIDS info, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, aidsinfo.nih.gov, 1/15/2019
- Basic Statistics
“… Young people aged 13 to 24 are especially affected by HIV. In 2017, young people accounted for 21% of all new HIV diagnoses. All young people are not equally at risk, however. Young gay and bisexual men accounted for 83% of all new HIV diagnoses in people aged 13 to 24 in 2017 (includes young gay and bisexual men who inject drugs), and young African American gay and bisexual men are even more severely affected. … HIV is largely an urban disease, with most cases occurring in metropolitan areas with 500,000 or more people. The South has the highest number of people living with HIV, but if population size is taken into account, the Northeast has the highest rate of people living with HIV.”
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, cdc.gov, 11/19/2018
- Vaginal Sex And HIV Risk
“Some sexual activities are riskier than others for getting or transmitting HIV. For an HIV-negative person, the riskiest activity for getting HIV is being the receptive partner (‘bottom’) in anal sex. Being the insertive partner (‘top’) in anal sex or having vaginal sex (insertive or receptive) is less risky, though either partner can get HIV through those activities as well. Activities like oral sex, touching, and kissing carry little to no risk for getting or transmitting HIV.
– A woman can get HIV during vaginal sex because the lining of the vagina and cervix may allow HIV to enter her body if her male partner’s body fluids carry HIV, including blood, semen (cum), and pre-seminal fluid (pre-cum). Using condoms or medicines to protect against transmission can decrease this risk.
– Men can also get HIV from having vaginal sex with a woman who’s HIV-positive because vaginal fluid and blood can carry HIV. Men can get HIV through the opening at the tip of the penis (or urethra); the foreskin if they’re not circumcised; or small cuts, scratches, or open sores anywhere on the penis. Using condoms or medicines to protect against transmission can decrease this risk.”
Division of HIV/AIDS Prevention, National Center for HIV/AIDS, Viral Hepatitis, STD, and TB Prevention, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, cdc.gov, 11/13/2018
- What Are The Symptoms Of HIV/AIDS?
“Within 2 to 4 weeks after infection with HIV, some people may have flu-like symptoms, such as fever, chills, or rash. The symptoms may last for a few days to several weeks. After this earliest stage of HIV infection, HIV continues to multiply but at very low levels. More severe symptoms of HIV infection, such as signs of opportunistic infections, generally don’t appear for many years. (Opportunistic infections are infections and infection-related cancers that occur more frequently or are more severe in people with weakened immune systems than in people with healthy immune systems.) Without treatment with HIV medicines, HIV infection usually advances to AIDS in 10 years or longer, though it may advance faster in some people. HIV transmission is possible at any stage of HIV infection—even if a person with HIV has no symptoms of HIV.”
AIDS info, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, aidsinfo.nih.gov, 11/6/2018
- HIV Transmission
“You can get or transmit HIV only through specific activities. Most commonly, people get or transmit HIV through sexual behaviors and needle or syringe use. Only certain body fluids—blood, semen (cum), pre-seminal fluid (pre-cum), rectal fluids, vaginal fluids, and breast milk—from a person who has HIV can transmit HIV. These fluids must come in contact with a mucous membrane or damaged tissue or be directly injected into the bloodstream (from a needle or syringe) for transmission to occur. Mucous membranes are found inside the rectum, vagina, penis, and mouth.”
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, cdc.gov, 10/31/2018
- HIV Prevention
“The person-to-person spread of HIV is called HIV transmission. HIV is transmitted (spread) only in certain body fluids from a person who has HIV:
– Pre-seminal fluids
– Rectal fluids
– Vaginal fluids
– Breast milk
HIV transmission is only possible if these fluids come in contact with a mucous membrane or damaged tissue or are directly injected into the bloodstream (from a needle or syringe). Mucous membranes are found inside the rectum, the vagina, the opening of the penis, and the mouth.
In the United States, HIV is spread mainly by:
– Having anal or vaginal sex with someone who has HIV without using a condom or taking medicines to prevent or treat HIV
– Sharing injection drug equipment (‘works’), such as needles, with someone who has HIV
HIV can also spread from a woman with HIV to her child during pregnancy, childbirth (also called labor and delivery), or breastfeeding. This spread of HIV is called mother-to-child transmission of HIV.
In the past, some people were infected with HIV after receiving a blood transfusion or organ or tissue transplant from a donor with HIV. Today, this risk is very low because donated blood, organs, and tissues are carefully tested in the United States.”
AIDS info, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, aidsinfo.nih.gov, 10/30/2018
- HIV/AIDS: Key Facts
“[1.] HIV continues to be a major global public health issue, having claimed more than 35 million lives so far. In 2017, 940 000 people died from HIV-related causes globally.
[2.] There were approximately 36.9 million people living with HIV at the end of 2017 with 1.8 million people becoming newly infected in 2017 globally.
[3.] 59% of adults and 52% of children living with HIV were receiving lifelong antiretroviral therapy (ART) in 2017. …
[4.] Key populations are groups who are at increased risk of HIV irrespective of epidemic type or local context. They include: men who have sex with men, people who inject drugs, people in prisons and other closed settings, sex workers and their clients, and transgender people. …
[5.] There is no cure for HIV infection. However, effective antiretroviral (ARV) drugs can control the virus and help prevent transmission so that people with HIV, and those at substantial risk, can enjoy healthy, long and productive lives.”
World Health Organization, who.int, 7/19/2018