Facts about HIV and AIDS

AIDS, which stands for acquired immune deficiency syndrome, is a very serious disease that affects children, teens, and adults. It is caused by a virus called the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV). This virus is acquired and causes a deficiency in the body's immune system.

HIV is the virus that causes AIDS. When someone is infected with HIV, it means the virus is attacking the immune system. The immune system is the body's way of fighting infections and helping prevent some types of cancer. Damage to the immune system from HIV can occur over months, as sometimes happens in infants. Sometimes it occurs slowly over years, as more often happens in adults. AIDS is diagnosed in an HIV-infected person when the immune system is severely damaged or when certain other serious infections or cancer occurs.

Many people do not know they are infected with HIV because it can take many years for serious symptoms to develop. However, even if an infected person shows no symptoms, the infection can spread to others. Many people with HIV infection look and act healthy. You cannot tell just by looking at people whether they are infected with HIV. A blood test for HIV is the only way to be sure.

AIDS has rapidly become the leading cause of death in young adults and children in many areas in the United States. Although there is treatment available, there is no cure for AIDS. The disease can be prevented by educating yourself and your children about AIDS and HIV, including the behaviors that can increase the risk of getting AIDS.

HIV is spread from one person to another through certain body fluids. These fluids include blood and blood products, semen (sperm), fluid from the vagina, and breast milk. The following are ways HIV can be spread:

It is very important to know how HIV is not spread. Fear and wrong information about HIV and AIDS cause suffering to those who have been infected with HIV. Make sure you and your children understand that HIV cannot be spread through casual contact with someone who has AIDS or is infected with HIV. You cannot get HIV in the following ways:

Also, you cannot get HIV from the following:

Source: American Academy of Pediatrics