Know the Risk

Having sex is a big responsibility. Any time you have sex you are at risk for getting a sexually transmitted disease (STD). The more you know about STDs, the better you can protect yourself.

Click on the links below to learn detailed facts about STDs and how to keep yourself healthy.

HIV (human immunodeficiency virus) causes AIDS (acquired immunodeficiency syndrome).
The virus makes it hard for a person to fight off everyday infections.
HIV is passed from person to person by infected blood, semen, vaginal fluids or breast milk.
There is no cure for HIV and AIDS, but they can be treated using anti-retroviral medications.

What is it?

Sometimes HIV and AIDS are talked about as if they are the same thing. They are actually two different things:

HIV (Human Immunodeficiency Virus)is a virus passed from person to person, male or female, by the exchange of specific bodily fluids - semen, blood, vaginal fluid - during anal, vaginal, and maybe even oral sex. People who are HIV-positive may not show any signs or symptoms for years, if at all. HIV can lead to AIDS.
AIDS (Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome)has to do with how well your body can fight off everyday infections by itself. When someone does not have enough strong "fighter" cells, and/or gets a very specific infection, they will be told they have AIDS. Once a person has AIDS, he or she can get very sick and die from other diseases and cancers that do not usually infect most people. There is no cure for AIDS.

Remember - not everybody will be told they have AIDS and the symptoms of AIDS is different for every person. Be sure to get tested every 3 to 6 months and, if you are told you have HIV, get a doctor you can trust.

Getting Tested

Doctors and clinics offer different kinds of tests. These tests look for a special kind of cell your body produces to fight HIV. In other words, if you have been exposed to HIV, your body reacts to fight HIV. This means the test will be positive.

There are also newer tests that can detect HIV in fluid that is in your mouth - not really spit, but pretty close to it. The fluid is taken from the inside of your cheek for this kind of test. There is also a test that uses urine (pee), but not many doctors or clinics use this. These are called rapid HIV tests and you can usually get the results the same day you take the test. If you decide to take a rapid test, a blood test will also be done to make sure it is a positive result. No matter which test you get, you will be asked to sit down with someone before and after to talk about HIV. Someone will help you understand your risks. If you're positive, they will help you figure out the next steps to take.

All HIV testing is confidential. This means that you and the doctor are the only people who will see your results. These results may be written down in your medical file. Your doctor cannot share your results with anyone (that includes your parents) without your permission except in very rare cases.

How will I feel?

At first, you might not know if you have HIV. Most people won't look or feel sick. Some people might get flu-like symptoms, like a headache, fever, sore muscles and joints, stomach ache, swollen lymph glands, or a skin rash. This will happen four to six weeks after they get the virus.

There is no cure for AIDS. However, there are drugs that slow down the HIV. Anti-retroviral drugs help slow down and stop damage to your immune system. These drugs also help lower the rates of infections in people with AIDS. Most people take many costly pills every day with pretty bad side effects. However, most people choose to take these pills because they can keep you pretty healthy and help you have a good life.

If you are HIV-positive, the number one thing to remember is to stay healthy. See your doctor regularly and keep your stress levels low, eat well, exercise, and get lots of rest. If you have sex, it is important to have protected (safer) sex with your partner(s). It is also important to have a doctor you trust and can work closely with, and who will help you figure out the best course of treatment and will review your health over time.

Not having sex is the only way to be sure you won't be infected with HIV. If you are having sex, use condoms correctly every time you have oral, anal, and vaginal sex to make sure you stay STD free. The risk for HIV is connected to the number of sex partners you have: the more sex partners, the greater the risk! Get STD check-ups every three to six months (that means at least twice a year, up to four times a year) to make sure viruses like HIV are caught early and treated quickly.