Common Sense about AIDS-Here's what young people need to know about AIDS

CDC tells how to prevent HIV infection and how to prevent transmission of the HIV virus

Teenagers increasingly are at risk for HIV and AIDS as the epidemic spreads throughout the heterosexual population in the United States and worldwide.

The Atlanta-based Centers for Disease Control and Preven tion (CDC) estimates that a teen in the United States gets a sexually transmitted disease, such as gonorrhea or chlamydia, every 11 seconds. HIV can be transmitted sexually, as well as by other routes.

To help you understand how to prevent HIV infection if you are uninfected or how to prevent spreading it to other people if you have HIV, the CDC answers a number of questions about the disease:

What is AIDS and what is HIV infection?

AIDS stands for acquired immunodeficiency syndrome, a condition in which the body's immune system breaks down. Because the system fails, the person with AIDS typically develops a variety of life-threatening illnesses.

HIV, the human immunodeficiency virus, is a small germ that causes AIDS. Once a person becomes infected with HIV, he or she can spread the virus to other people, even if the person who has HIV has no symptoms. A special blood test can detect HIV in a person.

Because the virus can hide in a person's body for years without producing symptoms, anyone who has HIV should be under a doctor's care. Doctors can prescribe drugs that can help delay or prevent an HIV-positive person from developing AIDS.

How does someone become infected with HIV?

There are three main ways HIV is introduced into a person's body. The first is by having unprotected sexual intercourse, including vaginal, anal, or oral sex, with an infected person. The second is by sharing drug needles or syringes with an infected person. The third way occurs when a pregnant woman with HIV does not take any AIDS drugs and gives birth. Her HIV can be transmitted to her baby either before, during, or after the birthing process (through nursing).

Some people have become infected through receiving blood transfusions, although the American blood supply has been tested for HIV since 1985, so transmission through blood transfusions is very rare today.

If somebody in my class at school has AIDS, am I likely to get it too?

No. People infected with HIV cannot pass the virus to others through ordinary activities of young people in school. And you will not become infected with HIV by attending school with someone who has HIV or AIDS.

Can I become infected with HIV from "French" kissing?

Not likely. HIV occasionally can be found in saliva, but in very low concentrations — so low that scientists believe it is virtually impossible to transmit infection by deep kissing.

However, the possibility exists that cuts or sores in the mouth may provide direct access for HIV to enter the bloodstream during prolonged deep kissing. So while there has never been a single case documented in which HIV was transmitted by kissing, scientists cannot absolutely rule out the possibility of transmission during prolonged, deep kissing.

Can I become infected with HIV from oral sex?

It's possible because oral sex often involves semen, vaginal secretions, or blood, all of which are fluids that contain HIV. During oral intercourse, the virus could enter the body through tiny cuts or sores in the mouth.

As long as I use a latex condom during sexual intercourse, I won't get HIV infection, right?

Latex condoms have been shown to prevent HIV infection and other sexually transmitted diseases. But you have to use them properly, which means using them every time you have sex, whether it's vaginal, anal, or oral.

Still, the only sure way to avoid infection through sex is to abstain from sexual intercourse or to engage in sexual intercourse only with someone who is not infected.

My friend has anal intercourse with her boyfriend so that she won't get pregnant. She won't get AIDS from doing that, right?

Wrong. Anal intercourse with an infected partner is one of the ways HIV has been transmitted. And whether you are male or female, anal intercourse with an infected partner is very risky.

If I have never injected drugs or have never had sexual intercourse with a person of the same sex, could I still have become infected with HIV?

Yes. HIV does not discriminate. You do not have to be homosexual or use drugs to become infected. Both males and females can become infected and transmit the infection to another person through intercourse.

Is it possible to become infected with HIV by donating blood?

No. There is absolutely no risk of HIV infection from donating blood because blood donation centers use a new, sterile needle for each donation.

A friend of mine told me that as long as I am taking birth control pills, I will never get HIV infection. Is this true?

No. Birth control pills do not protect against HIV. Even if you are taking the pill, you should use a latex condom unless you are sure your partner is not infected.

I think I might have been infected two months ago when I had intercourse without a condom with someone I didn't know. Should I get an HIV test?

You should talk with a health professional or your family practitioner about the need for HIV testing. You can call the CDC National AIDS Hotline at (800) 342-AIDS to find out where you can receive counseling about an HIV test. You don't have to give your name, and the call is free.

What is the proper way to use a condom?

First, use a latex condom every time you have anal, oral, or vaginal sex. Latex serves as a barrier to the virus. Lambskin or natural membrane condoms may not provide as good a barrier because of the pores in the material. Look for the word "latex" on the package.

As soon as the penis becomes erect, put the condom on it by rolling it down the penis. Leave a small space at the top of the condom to catch the semen, or use a condom with a reservoir tip. Remove any air that remains in the tip by gently pressing toward the base of the penis.

When you use a lubricant, check the label to make sure it is water-based. Do not use petroleum-based jelly, cold cream, baby oil, or other lubricants, such as cooking oil or shortening. These weaken the latex condom and can cause it to break.

If you feel the condom break while you are having sex, stop immediately and pull out. Do not continue until you have put on a new condom.

After ejaculation, withdraw while the penis is still erect, holding on to the rim of the condom while pulling out so that it doesn't come off.

Never use a condom more than once, and don't use a condom that is brittle or that has been stored near heat or in your wallet or glove compartment for a long time. Check the package for date of expiration.

Where can I find more information about HIV/AIDS?

You may contact the CDC National Prevention Informa tion Network, P.O. Box 6003, Rockville, MD 20849-6003. Telephone: (800) 458-5231. Or you may visit the CDC's Web site at www.cdc.gov.