What is HIV?

HIV stands for human immunodeficiency virus. It is the virus that causes AIDS. A member of a group of viruses called retroviruses, HIV infects human cells and uses the energy and nutrients provided by those cells to grow and reproduce.

What is AIDS?

AIDS stands for acquired immunodeficiency syndrome. It is a disease in which the body’s immune system breaks down and is unable to fight off infections, known as “opportunistic infections,” and other illnesses that take advantage of a weakened immune system.

When a person is infected with HIV, the virus enters the body and lives and multiplies primarily in the white blood cells. These are immune cells that normally protect us from disease. The hallmark of HIV infection is the progressive loss of a specific type of immune cell called T-helper, or CD4, cells. As the virus grows, it damages or kills these and other cells, weakening the immune system and leaving the person vulnerable to various opportunistic infections and other illnesses ranging from pneumonia to cancer.

A person can receive a clinical diagnosis of AIDS, as defined by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), if he or she has tested positive for HIV and meets one or both of theses conditions:

  • The presence of one or more AIDS-related infections or illnesses
  • A CD4 count that has reached or fallen below 200 cells per cubic millimeter of blood. Also called the T-cell count, the CD4 count ranges from 450 to 1200 in healthy individuals

How Can You Get Infected with HIV?

HIV does not spread easily from person to person. To get infected with HIV, infected blood, sexual fluid, or mother’s milk has to get into your body. HIV-infected pregnant women can pass the infection to their new babies.

Abstinence, Monogamy, and Sex

Perhaps one of the best examples of ideology impeding sound public-health policy is the current US administration’s insistence that both US and international sex education programs promote the view that the only sensible approach to avoiding unwanted pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections is abstinence until marriage, followed by life-long monogamy.

AIDS CANNOT be spread by the following ways:

  • Breathing the same air as people with AIDS
  • Eating food prepared by people with AIDS
  • Shaking hands with or hugging someone who has AIDS
  • Sharing Bathrooms with someone who has AIDS
  • Sitting next to someone who has AIDS
  • Sitting on a toilet seat after someone with AIDS has used it
  • Insect bites
  • Giving blood
  • Swimming pools

However, You CAN Get AIDS Through:

  • Sexual intercourse
  • Contact with an infected persons blood
  • Through blood transfusions
  • To a baby by an infected mother during pregnancy


All About AIDS
What You and the People You Care About Need to Know About HIV/AIDS
Stopping the Spread of HIV
How Virus That Causes AIDS Spreads Following Oral Exposure
Abstinence, Monogamy, and Sex