AIDS (Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome) is a deadly disease caused by a virus called HIV, which shuts down the body's immune system. This means it breaks down the body's ability to protect itself from infection and disease. A person infected with the AIDS virus (HIV) will continue to grow weaker and weaker. It is likely that once a person has developed AIDS, they will die. The AIDS virus (HIV) may live in the human body for years and can be spread to others before symptoms appear.
AIDS virus (HIV) only lives in certain body fluids: blood, semen, vaginal secretions, and breast milk. This means that you will not get AIDS virus (HIV) from a handshake, a hug, a cough or a sneeze, sweat or tears, a toilet, eating utensils or a telephone.
The most common ways the AIDS virus (HIV) is spread are:
Remember, you can't tell if people are infected by the way they look. The more sexual partners you or your partner has or have had, the greater the chance you have of becoming infected with the AIDS virus (HIV) and other sexually transmitted diseases. (See Sexually Transmitted Diseases, p. 41).
The best and safest way for you to protect yourself against infection with the AIDS virus (HIV) is to not have sex and not use drugs. You can get the AIDS virus (HIV) from just one sexual experience. If you choose to have sex, there are ways to protect yourself, such as always using a latex (rubber) condom (as well as a spermicide) and not having sex with people who have sores, blisters, or open cuts around their mouth or sex organs. Keep in mind that condoms can't be counted on 100%. It is possible that you can become infected with the AIDS virus (HIV), even if you use a condom.
There is currently no cure for AIDS. As a teenager, you need to, and can, take responsibility for protecting your own health. A few good choices now can help you avoid many serious problems later.
The following organizations will provide information and/or assistance (click on the agency's name for more information):