HIV/AIDS: Know the Facts
HIV is the human immunodeficiency virus that can lead to acquired immune deficiency syndrome, or AIDS. When the virus enters the body it cannot get rid of it. Once a person is infected, he or she has it for life. There is no cure.
“HIV infection” refers to all cases of HIV including AIDS. It is estimated that there are 1.2 million people living with HIV infection in the U.S. (2009), but not all know they are infected. In 2010 there were 31,953 reported cases of people living with HIV in Pennsylvania and 327 reported cases in Erie of people living with HIV infection.
Anyone can be infected with HIV but you would not know just by looking at a person. They often look healthy and feel fine. In fact a person who is infected may not know they are infected because they don’t feel sick. Approximately 20% of infected people are unaware of their HIV positive status. After first being infected it may take as long as 8 to 10 years before they begin to exhibit symptoms.
HIV does not survive well outside of the body and is not spread in the environment, water, air, food, or by insects, donating blood, hugging or casual contact. It is an infection that is spread from one person to another through contact with infected bodily fluids including blood, semen, and vaginal secretions. Two risky behaviors are largely responsible for its spread. First, the sharing of needles or syringes for IV drug use, or straws used for snorting, can expose a person to HIV infected blood. Second, and the most dangerous behavior, is having unprotected sex that may expose a person to infected secretions. The chance of transmission increases when a person has multiple sex partners or a co-existing sexually transmitted disease (STD).
Remember you will not know who is infected by looking at them. Even though a person appears to be or says they are “clean” they may already be infected with HIV or another sexually transmitted disease.
Every 9 minutes and 30 seconds someone in the USA is infected with HIV. Don’t be one of the statistics. Protecting yourself from getting HIV is simple and inexpensive:
Do not share needles, syringes, straws, razors, or toothbrushes.
Use latex gloves every time you are in contact with any bodily fluids and follow the principles of Universal Precautions.
Follow safer sex practices.
Do everything you can to protect yourself—know the facts and know your HIV status. For more information about ways to protect yourself, contact your health care professional. For more information about STD’s including HIV and to find HIV testing sites go to www.cdc.gov or www.ecdh.org.
This information is distributed by Erie County Department of Health, 606 W. 2nd Street, Erie, PA 16507, 814-451-6700, www.ecdh.org.
Darlene Scavona, MSN, RN
Public Health Nurse
Erie County Department of Health