Dr. MJ Bazos MD,
AIDS - How to reduce your risk of
AIDS (acquired immunodeficiency
syndrome) is a disease caused by a virus called HIV (human immunodeficiency
virus). HIV attacks the body’s immune system. A healthy immune system is
what keeps you from getting sick. When people have AIDS, their bodies
can’t fight disease. They get sick easily and have trouble getting well.
They usually die from an infection or
How do people catch
HIV can only be passed from
person to person through body fluids, like blood, semen and vaginal fluid. The
most common ways to catch AIDS are:
By having unprotected anal, vaginal or oral sex with an infected
2. By sharing needles and syringes
for injecting drugs with an infected
You’re also at risk if
you’ve had sex or shared needles with someone who has any of the risk
factors for HIV infection listed in the box on the next page. Children born to
infected mothers can also become infected during pregnancy or
Should I be tested for
You should think about getting
tested for HIV infection if you think you’re at risk. Most HIV antibody
tests done by your doctor are accurate if you have them done three months or
longer after you think you may have been infected. The blood test for HIV works
by looking for antibodies to the virus. These antibodies are made by the body
after HIV infection. So the test isn’t accurate until the virus has been
in the body long enough (about three to six months) for antibodies to be
Are there tests for HIV I can
do at home?
Yes. Home tests offer you
the advantage of privacy and anonymity. You can buy home HIV test kits at drug
stores and pharmacies. They are expensive and may not be covered by most health
insurance plans. The difference between doing a home test and seeing your doctor
for a test ist that, with a home test, you are the only person who knows you are
How do home tests
You take a blood sample from your
fingertip and mail it to a lab. When you mail the sample, you use a personal ID
number instead of your name on the card. After about a week, you call the
lab’s result center. You will be asked for your ID number and then told
the test result and given counseling about the meaning of the result.
Should I use a home test or see my
Your doctor is concerned about
you, your health and your privacy. If your lifestyle leads you to believe that
you have HIV, you should see your doctor. He or she will help you decide if you
should be tested and will give you the neccessary personal support before and
after the test. This type of support is not available with home tests. With a
home test, the person who tells you the test result doesn’t know you and
is talking to you from the other end of a telephone, not face to face. However,
if you are afraid to talk with your doctor about HIV and are afraid to be tested
even though you may be at risk for HIV, then doing a home test may be a good
idea. The most important thing is to be tested if you think you could have been
infected. If you do a home test and the results are positive, you need to see a
doctor right away. Remember, one negative test is not a guarantee that you
don’t have HIV or won’t get it in the future. You should talk to
your doctor and learn about ways to protect yourself from getting
What contact is
HIV can’t live very long
outside the body, so you can’t catch it through casual contact. You
can’t catch the virus by touching, shaking hands, hugging, swimming in a
public pool, giving blood, or using hot tubs, public toilets, telephones,
doorknobs or water fountains. You also can’t catch it from food, or
mosquitoes or other
Risk factors for HIV
- Have had sex with a prostitute (man or
- Are a man and have had sex with a
- Have had many sex partners or have had sex with
someone who has had many sex partners.
- Have had a sexually transmitted disease (for
example, gonorrhea, syphilis or herpes).
- Have had sex for drugs or money.
- Have shared needles to use drugs.
- Have had a blood transfusion or received blood
products between 1977 and 1985.
- Are heterosexual and were born in a country where
AIDS is common in heterosexuals, such as
How can I avoid
The best ways to protect
yourself from getting infected with HIV are to:
- Not have sex with a person who is infected or is
having sex with others.
- Practice “safer” sex if you do have
- Not share needles and
You can’t tell
who’s infected with HIV by how they look. It takes an average of eight
years for symptoms of AIDS to develop after a person is infected with HIV. So
even people who don’t look or feel sick can give you
What is “safer”
No sex is completely safe.
“Safer” sex is sex between two people who don’t have HIV
infection, only have sex with each other and don’t abuse injectable drugs.
If you have any doubts about whether your partner is infected or whether he or
she is having sex with anyone else, use male latex condoms every time you have
sex. Female condoms aren’t as effective as male condoms but should be used
when a man doesn’t use a latex condom. Never let someone else’s
blood, semen, urine, vaginal fluid or feces get into your anus, vagina or mouth.
Male latex condoms should be used during all sex acts, including anal, vaginal
and oral sex. For oral sex on a woman, use a condom split lengthwise to place
between her body and her partner’s mouth. Using contraceptive creams,
foams or jellies with the spermicide (sperm-killer) called nonoxynol-9 along
with a latex condom may improve your protection. This spermicide may kill HIV as
well as sperm. The spermicide works best when put in the vagina too, rather than
just on the condom.
How to use female
- Insert the condom before you begin
- Add lubricant and the spermicide nonoxynol-9 to
the inside of the condom.
- Follow the directions on the condom package for
correct placement. Be sure the inner ring goes as far into the vagina as it can.
The outer ring stays outside the vagina.
- Guide the penis into the condom.
- After sex, remove the condom before standing up
by gently pulling it out.
- Throw the used condom away. Don’t reuse
Use only water-based
lubricants (some brand names: Gyne-Moistrin, K-Y Jelly, Replens) with condoms.
Oil-based libricants such as petroleum jelly (brand name: Vaseline), baby oil or
lotions cause the rubber in condoms to break. Even latex condoms aren’t
100% effective. How well they work depends on if you use them right. See the box
below for some tips on how to use condoms, and follow the directions on the
How to use male latex
- Use a latex condom. Condoms made of animal skin
may not protect against tiny viruses, which may pass through the porous skin.
- Put the condom on before any contact is
- Unroll the condom over an erect penis. The
unrolled ring should be on the outside. Leave about a half-inch of space in the
tip so semen can collect there. Squeeze the tip to get the air out. Unroll the
condom to the base of the penis.
- Use the spermicide nonoxynol-9 to improve how
well condoms protect. The spermicide works best when put into the vagina or
anus, rather than just on the condom.
- Pull out after ejaculating (“coming”)
and before the penis gets soft. To pull out, hold the rim of the condom at the
base of the penis to make sure it doesn’t slip off.
- Don’t reuse
What if I share
If you do share needles and
syringes, clean them twice with bleach and water to help kill HIV. Draw bleach
into the syringe and needle, then squirt it out. Do the same with water. Do both