What Is AIDS?
Acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS) is a serious condition that affects
the body’s ability to fight infection. A disgnosis of AIDS is made when a
person develops a life-threatening illness not usually found in a person with a
normal ability to fight infection. The two diseases most often found in AIDS
patients are a lung infection called Pneumocystis carinii pneumonia and a rare
form of cancer called Kaposi’s sarcoma. It is these diseases, not the AIDS
virus itself, that can lead to death. To date, more than 50 percent of the
persons with AIDS have died.
What Causes AIDS?
Researchers have discovered the cause of AIDS – a virus that is called either
HTLV-III or LAV. This virus changes the structure of the cell it attacks.
Infection with the virus can lead to AIDS or to a less severe condition known
as AIDS-related complex (ARC). Some of those persons infected with the virus
will develop symptoms of AIDS or ARC. Other people who carry the virus may
remain in apparent good health. These carriers can transmit the virus during
sexual contact, or an infected mother can transmit the virus to her infant
before, during, or after birth (probably through breast milk).
Who Gets AIDS?
Since 1981, the Centers for Disease Control has been collecting information
on AIDS. Approximately 95 percent of the persons with AIDS belong to one of the
* Sexually active homosexual or bisexual men (73 percent)
* Present or past abusers of intravenous drugs (17 percent)
* Patients who have had transfusions with blood or blood products (2 percent)
* Persons with hemophilia or other coagulation disorders (1 percent)
* Heterosexuals who have had sexual contact with someone with AIDS, or at risk
for AIDS (1 percent)
* Infants born to infected mothers (1 percent)
Approximately 5 percent of persons with AIDS do not fall into any of these
groups, but researchers believe that they came in contact with the virus in
similar ways. Some died before complete histories could be taken, while others
refused to provide any personal information.
What Are the Symptoms?
Most individuals infected with the AIDS virus have no symptoms and feel well.
Some develop symptoms that may include –
* Fever, including “night sweats.”
* Weight loss for no apparent reason.
* Swollen lymph glands in the neck, underarm, or groin area.
* Fatigue or tiredness.
* White spots or unusual blemishes in the mouth.
These symptoms are also symptoms of many other illnesses. They may be symptoms
of AIDS if they are unexplained by other illness. Anyone with these symptoms
for more than two weeks should see a doctor.
How is the AIDS Virus Spread?
The AIDS virus is spread by sexual contact, needle sharing, or rarely through
transfused blood or its components. Multiple sexual partners, either homosexual
or heterosexual, and sharing needles by drug users increase the risk of
infection with the virus.
Is the AIDS Virus Spread Through Casual Contact?
No. Casual contact with AIDS patients or people who carry the virus does NOT
place others at risk for getting AIDS. The AIDS virus is NOT spread by-
* Casual contact, such as hugging or hand shaking with an AIDS patient or a
person carrying the virus.
* Use of bathroom facilities, such as toilets, sinks, or bathtubs. Use of
* Sneezing, coughing, or spitting.
* Dishes, utensils, or food handled by a person with AIDS.
The AIDS virus is not spread through normal daily contact at work, in school,
or at home. No cases have been found where the virus has been transmitted by
casual contact with AIDS patients in the home, workplace, or health care
setting. This statement is based in part, on studies of more than 300
households where people with AIDS were present. Not a single case of AIDS or
transmission of the virus was found except from sexual contacts or from
infected mothers to their infants. Many of those tested were children who had
shared bottles, beds, toothbrushes, and eating utensils with infected brothers
Is There a Test for AIDS?
There is an AIDS virus antibody test that detects antibodies to the AIDS virus
that causes the disease. The body produces antibodies that try to get rid of
bacteria, viruses, or anything else that is not supposed to be in the blood
stream. The test tells if someone has been infected with the AIDS virus. Most
people with AIDS have a positive test and some people with a positive test
will develop AIDS. The test does not tell who will develop AIDS.
What Does a Positive Test Mean?
It means that a person has been infected with the AIDS virus. It is estimated
that more than one million Americans have been infected by the AIDS virus. Some
of these people will develop AIDS. Others who have the virus may stay well,
without any symptoms, but can transmit the virus to others.
Why Do We Have a Test?
The test was first used in blood donation centers to prevent the AIDS virus
from getting into the blood supply. We have always used tests to make the
blood supply as safe as possible. For example, all blood is tested for the
hepatitis B virus. This is to make sure that the person does not get hepatitis
Is the Blood Supply Safe?
YES. The blood supply is well protected from the AIDS virus. People who may be
at risk of having AIDS are told that they should not donate blood. For example,
men who have had sex with another male since 1977 are told not to donate blood.
Also, the test is used to screen all donated blood and plasma for signs of the
virus that causes AIDS.
Can I Get AIDS by Donating Blood?
NO. All of the needles, syringes, tubing, and containers used by blood donation
centers are sterile and are used only once and thrown away, so there is no
chance of infection.
Is the Test Available to the Public?
YES. The test is available at a variety of test sites in most states. It is
also available through private doctors and clinics. Information about where to
get the test is available from state or local health departments, sexually
transmitted disease clinics, doctor’s offices, and community blood services.
Anyone planning to take the test should get advice before the test and
understand what the results may indicate. It is important to have counseling
after the test.
How Can I Protect Myself From AIDS?
* Do not have sexual contact with AIDS patients, with members of the risk
groups, or with people who test positive for the AIDS virus. If you do, use
a condom and avoid sexual practices such as anal intercourse that may injure
* Do not use IV drugs. If you do, do not share needles. Do not have sex with
people who use IV drugs.
* Women who are sex partners of risk group members or who use IV drugs should
consider the risk to their babies before pregnancy. These women should have
an HTLV-III antibody test before they become pregnant. If the become pregnant
they should have a test during pregnancy.
* Do not have sex with multiple partners, including prostitutes (who may also
be IV drug abusers). The more partners you have, the greater your chances of
What Should I Do if I Have a Positive Test?
* Have a regular medical checkup and get counseling.
* Do not donate blood, sperm, or organs.
* Do not share drugs with others, and avoid exchanging bodily fluids during
sexual activity (a condom should be used). Avoid oral-genital contact and
* Do not share toothbrushes. razors, or anything that could be contaminated
* Consider postponing pregnancy.