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What is HIV / AIDS? | Get SMART Project | Young Adult HIV & STD Prevention - MD

What is HIV / AIDS?

What is HIV / AIDS?

HIV stands for Human Immunodeficiency Virus. The virus affects the body’s immune system, which is its main defense against disease. If untreated, HIV weakens the immune system over time, leaving the person who has HIV open to other life-threatening infections.

AIDS stands for Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome which refers to the range of specific illnesses that a person with HIV may get when their immune system becomes weakened by HIV. It’s possible to have HIV for many years before getting any of the illnesses usually associated with AIDS. For those on effective HIV treatments, the likelihood of receiving an AIDS diagnosis is very small.

HIV can affect anyone. The disease can be transmitted to anyone who doesn’t take the proper prevention methods.

While HIV can impact anyone, the African-American community has specific challenges. African American youth continue to be one of the groups most severely affected by HIV infection in the United States. In fact, black youth represent more than half (57 percent) of all new HIV infections among young people aged 13 to 24.

  • African Americans are the racial/ethnic group most affected by HIV.
  • The rate of new HIV infection in African Americans is 8 times that of whites based on population size.
  • African-Americans account for almost half of the more than one million people estimated to be living with HIV in the United States (44 percent), and of new HIV infections each year (44 percent).
  • African American youth are particularly affected. Of the nearly 21,000 infections estimated to occur each year among African Americans, one-third (34 percent) are among young people aged 13 to 24.

HIV is transmitted when infected body fluids (blood, semen, vaginal fluids, breast milk or anal mucus) pass from a person with HIV into the bloodstream of an uninfected person.

These body fluids must come into contact with a mucous membrane or damaged tissue or be directly injected into your bloodstream (by a needle or syringe) for transmission to possibly occur. Mucous membranes are the soft, moist areas just inside the openings to your body. They can be found inside the rectum, the vagina or the opening of the penis, and the mouth.

How is HIV Spread

According to AIDS.gov, approximately 50,000 new HIV infections occur in the U.S. each year.

Here in the United States, HIV is spread mainly by:

  • Having sex with someone who has HIV.
  • Anal sex (penis in the anus of a man or woman) is the highest-risk sexual behavior. Receptive anal sex (“bottoming”) is riskier than insertive anal sex (“topping”).
  • Vaginal sex (penis in the vagina) is the second highest-risk sexual behavior.
  • Having multiple sex partners or having sexually transmitted infections can increase the risk of HIV infection through sex.
  • Sharing needles, syringes, rinse water, or other equipment (“works”) used to prepare injection drugs with someone who has HIV.
  • Getting body piercings and tattoos with a non-sterilized needle

6 Ways HIV is Transmitted


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