Dr. MJ Bazos MD, Patient Handout
AIDS - How to reduce your risk of catching it

What is AIDS?
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 cancer.

How do people catch AIDS?
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:

1. By having unprotected anal, vaginal or oral sex with an infected person.
2. By sharing needles and syringes for injecting drugs with an infected person.

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 delivery.

Should I be tested for HIV?
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 made.

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 being tested.

How do home tests work?
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 doctor?
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 infected.

What contact is safe?
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 insects.

Risk factors for HIV infection

How can I avoid getting AIDS?
The best ways to protect yourself from getting infected with HIV are to:
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 AIDS.

What is “safer” sex?
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 condoms
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 package.

How to use male latex condoms

What if I share needles?
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 steps again.