In 1981, scientists in the United States and France first recognized Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS), which was later found to be caused by a virus called Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV). HIV breaks down the body’s immunity to infections that lead to AIDS. The virus can lie hidden in the body for up to 10 years without producing obvious symptoms or before it develops into AIDS, and meanwhile the person can infect other people unknowingly. Today, an estimated 40 million people worldwide are HIV carriers, and three million a year are dying of AIDS. HIV lives in white blood cells and is present in human sexual fluids.
It is difficult to catch and is spread largely through sexual contact, by sharing needles or needles among intravenous drug users, in blood transfusions, and during pregnancy and birth (if the mother is infected). Using someone else’s razor or getting your body pierced or tattooed are also risky, but the HIV virus cannot be transmitted by shaking hands, kissing, hugging, caressing, sneezing, cooking food, or sharing eating or drinking utensils. A person cannot be infected by saliva, sweat, tears, urine, or feces; toilet seats, telephones, swimming pools, or mosquito bites do not cause AIDS. Excluding victims of AIDS who are known to be not only immoral but also implausible.
Most blood banks now screen their products for HIV, and you can protect yourself from dirty needles by only allowing the injection if you see the syringe being taken out of a fresh, unopened package. The simplest protection during sex is the proper use of latex condoms. Unroll the condom onto the erect penis; while pulling away after ejaculation, hold the condom as you go out. Never try to recycle condoms, and pack supplies with you, as that can be annoying trying to buy them in no time.
HIV is spread more frequently through anal than vaginal sex, because the lining of the rectum is much weaker than that of the vagina, and regular condoms sometimes tear when used in anal sex. If you are having anal sex, use only extra strong condoms and a special water-based lubricant, as oils, Vaseline, and creams weaken the rubber. During oral sex you should make sure you don’t get semen or menstrual blood in your mouth. A woman runs 10 times the risk of contracting AIDS from a man than the other way around, and the threat is always greater when there is another sexually transmitted disease (STD).
The existence of AIDS calls for a basic change in human behavior. There is no vaccine or drug that can prevent or cure AIDS, and because viruses mutate frequently, there is no single drug that may be truly effective. Other STDs such as syphilis, gonorrhea, chlamydia, hepatitis B, and herpes are much more common than AIDS and can cause serious complications such as infertility, but at least they are usually curable.
Aids and HIV infection
You should always practice safe sex to prevent AIDS and other STDs. You never know who is infected or even if you have been infected yourself. It is important to bring the subject before you start making love. Make a joke by pulling out the condom and asking your new partner, “Say, do you know what this is?” Or maybe, “Your condo or mine?” Far from being inhuman or embarrassing, the two of you will feel more relaxed about the subject of your thoughts, and that’s much better than worrying afterwards if you might have been infected. The golden rule is safe sex or no sex.
HIV infection can be detected through a blood test, because the antibodies created by the body to fight the virus can be seen under a microscope. It takes at least three weeks for antibodies to be produced and in some cases as long as six months before they can be picked up during screening tests. If you think you may have run a risk, you should discuss the suitability of the test with your doctor. It’s always better to know if you are infected so that you can avoid infecting others, to get early symptom treatment, and to come up with a realistic plan. If you know someone with AIDS, you should give them all the support you can (there is no danger in contact unless blood is present).