What is HIV?
HIV is the human immunodeficiency virus. It is the virus that can lead to acquired immune deficiency syndrome, or AIDS. CDC estimates that about 56,000 people in the United States contracted HIV in 2006.
Within a few weeks of being infected with HIV, some people develop flu-like symptoms that last for a week or two, but others have no symptoms at all. People living with HIV may appear and feel healthy for several years. However, even if they feel healthy, HIV is still affecting their bodies. All people with HIV should be seen on a regular basis by a health care provider experienced with treating HIV infection. Many people with HIV, including those who feel healthy, can benefit greatly from current medications used to treat HIV infection. These medications can limit or slow down the destruction of the immune system, improve the health of people living with HIV, and may reduce their ability to transmit HIV. Untreated early HIV infection is also associated with many diseases including cardiovascular disease, kidney disease, liver disease, and cancer. Support services are also available to many people with HIV. These services can help people cope with their diagnosis, reduce risk behavior, and find needed services.
Where did HIV come from?
Scientists identified a type of chimpanzee in West Africa as the source of HIV infection in humans. They believe that the chimpanzee version of the immunodeficiency virus (called simian immunodeficiency virus or SIV) most likely was transmitted to humans and mutated into HIV when humans hunted these chimpanzees for meat and came into contact with their infected blood. Over decades, the virus slowly spread across Africa and later into other parts of the world.
How is HIV passed along?
- HIV can be detected in several fluids and tissue of a person living with HIV. It is important to understand however, that finding a small amount of HIV in a body fluid or tissue does not mean that HIV is transmitted by that body fluid or tissue. Only specific fluids (blood, semen, vaginal secretions, and breast milk) from an HIV-infected person can transmit HIV. These specific fluids must come in contact with a mucous membrane or damaged tissue or be directly injected into the blood-stream (from a needle or syringe) for transmission to possibly occur.
In the United States, HIV is most commonly transmitted through specific sexual behaviors (anal or vaginal sex) or sharing needles with an infected person. It is less common for HIV to be transmitted through oral sex or for an HIV-infected woman to pass the virus to her baby before or during childbirth or after birth through breastfeeding or by pre chewing food for her infant. In the United States, it is also possible to acquire HIV through exposure to infected blood, transfusions of infected blood, blood products, or organ transplantation, though this risk is extremely remote due to rigorous testing of the U.S. blood supply and donated organs.
You cannot get HIV from:
- HIV is not transmitted by day-to-day contact in the workplace, schools, or social settings. HIV is not transmitted through shaking hands, hugging, or a casual kiss. You cannot become infected from a toilet seat, a drinking fountain, a door knob, dishes, drinking glasses, food, or pets.
HIV is not an airborne or food-borne virus, and it does not live long outside the body.
Although contact with blood and other body substances can occur in households, transmission of HIV is rare in this setting. A small number of transmission cases have been reported in which a person became infected with HIV as a result of contact with blood or other body secretions from an HIV-infected person in the household.
How can I protect myself form HIV?
- Latex condoms, when used consistently and correctly, are highly effective in preventing heterosexual sexual transmission of HIV, the virus that causes AIDS. Research on the effectiveness of latex condoms in preventing heterosexual transmission is both comprehensive and conclusive. The ability of latex condoms to prevent transmission has been scientifically established in laboratory studies as well as in epidemiologic studies of uninfected persons at very high risk of infection because they were involved in sexual relationships with HIV-infected partners. The most recent meta-analysis of epidemiologic studies of condom effectiveness was published by Weller and Davis in 2004. This analysis refines and updates their previous report published in 1999. The analysis demonstrates that the consistent use of latex condoms provides a high degree of protection against heterosexual transmission of HIV. It should be noted that condom use cannot provide absolute protection against HIV. The surest way to avoid transmission of HIV is to abstain from sexual intercourse or to be in a long-term mutually monogamous relationship with a partner who has been tested and you know is uninfected.
- The CDC recommends that people who inject drugs should be regularly counseled to
- Stop using and injecting drugs.
- Enter and complete substance abuse treatment, including relapse prevention.
For injection drug users who cannot or will not stop injecting drugs, the following steps may be taken to reduce personal and public health risks:
- Never reuse or "share" syringes, water, or drug preparation equipment.
- Only use syringes obtained from a reliable source (such as pharmacies or needle exchange programs).
- Use a new, sterile syringe each time to prepare and inject drugs.
- If possible, use sterile water to prepare drugs; otherwise, use clean water from a reliable source (such as fresh tap water).
- Use a new or disinfected container ("cooker") and a new filter ("cotton") to prepare drugs.
- Clean the injection site with a new alcohol swab prior to injection.
- Safely dispose of syringes after one use.
If new, sterile syringes and other drug preparation and injection equipment are not available, then previously used equipment should be boiled in water or disinfected with bleach before reuse.
Teens and HIV…
- Young people aged 13–29 accounted for 39% of all new HIV infections in 2009.
- With regard to youth, HIV disproportionately affects young gay and bisexual men and young African Americans.
- All young people should know how to protect themselves from HIV infection.
New HIV Infections (Ages 13–29 Years)
- In 2009, young persons accounted for 39% of all new HIV infections in the US. For comparison's sake, persons aged 15–29 comprised 21% of the US population in 2010.
- Young MSM, especially those of minority races and ethnicity, are at increased risk for HIV infection. In 2009, young MSM accounted for 27% of new HIV infections in the US and 69% of new HIV infections among persons aged 13–29. Among young black MSM, new HIV infections increased 48% from 2006 through 2009.
HIV and AIDS Diagnoses2 (Ages 13–24 Years)
- An estimated 8,294 young persons were diagnosed with HIV infection in 2009 in the 40 states with long-term HIV reporting, representing about 20% of the persons diagnosed during that year.
- Seventy-five percent (6,237) of these diagnoses occurred in young people aged 20–24 years. Indeed, those aged 20–24 had the highest number and rate of HIV diagnoses of any age group (36.9 new HIV diagnoses/100,000 people).
- In 2009, young blacks accounted for 65% (5,404) of diagnoses of HIV infection reported among persons aged 13–24 years.
- In 2008, an estimated 22% of persons aged 13–24 living with diagnosed HIV infection were infected through hemophilia, blood transfusion, birth, or unknown transmission mode, with the majority being infected perinatally.
- Research has shown that a large proportion of young people are not concerned about becoming infected with HIV. This lack of awareness can translate into not taking measures that could protect their health.
- Abstaining from sex and drug use is the most effective way to avoid HIV infection, but adolescents need accurate, age-appropriate information about HIV and AIDS, how to reduce or eliminate risk factors, how to talk with a potential partner about risk factors and how to negotiate safer sex, where to get tested for HIV, and how to use a condom correctly. Parents also need to reinforce health messages, including how to protect oneself from HIV infection.
One last word about HIV…
Understanding HIV and AIDS Data
AIDS surveillance: Through a uniform system, CDC receives reports of AIDS cases from all US states and dependent areas. Since the beginning of the epidemic, these data have been used to monitor trends. The data are statistically adjusted for reporting delays and for the redistribution of cases initially reported without risk factors. As treatment has become more available, trends in new AIDS diagnoses no longer accurately represent trends in new HIV infections; these data now represent persons who are tested late in the course of HIV infection, who have limited access to care, or in whom treatment has failed.
HIV surveillance: Monitoring trends in the HIV epidemic today requires the collection of information on HIV cases that have not progressed to AIDS. Areas with requirements for confidential name-based HIV infection reporting use the same uniform system for collecting data on HIV cases and for collecting data on AIDS cases. A total of 33 states (Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, Colorado, Florida, Idaho, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Louisiana, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Nebraska, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Virginia, West Virginia, Wisconsin, and Wyoming) have collected these data for at least 5 years, providing sufficient data to monitor HIV trends and to estimate risk behaviors for HIV infection.
HIV/AIDS: This term is used to refer to 3 categories of diagnoses collectively: (1) a diagnosis of HIV infection (not AIDS), (2) a diagnosis of HIV infection and a later diagnosis of AIDS, and (3) concurrent diagnoses of HIV infection and AIDS.