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Public Health - Seattle & King County

Questions about HIV and AIDS

HIV stands for Human Immunodeficiency Virus. People usually get it through unprotected sexual contact or through sharing needles.

AIDS is an acronym for Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome. AIDS is acquired which means that it is not passed down from generation to generation through a person's genes. AIDS is a disease that attacks the immune system, a system in the body that produces white blood cells in order to fight off diseases. This disease causes the immune system to be deficient, or weakened, so that it cannot properly fight off diseases. AIDS is a syndrome, or a group of illnesses, with many possible symptoms that can occur together in a weakened condition.

AIDS is caused by the Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV). This virus attacks the antibodies in a person's immune system, thereby disabling that system. HIV works in an unusual way because it uses the immune system to its advantage. Viruses cannot live unless they are inside of a living cell, called a host. The viruses use the host cell to reproduce themselves, causing the cell to die in the process. The new viruses are then set free. The HIV virus attacks T4 lymphocytes, which are a special type of white blood cell. These cells are the body's method of defense. Without them, humans are susceptible to disease and infection. It is not HIV that kills people; the opportunistic infections people get because of a weakened immune system are what eventually cause them to die.

Randy investigates a syringe drop box at a Public Health Center.
Randy investigates a syringe drop box at a Public Health Center.
HIV is spread through four bodily fluids: semen, breast milk, vaginal secretions, and blood. In most cases HIV is passed by sexual contact with an infected person, or by sharing needles and/or syringes (mainly for drug injection) with someone who is infected. Babies born to HIV-infected women may also become infected before or during birth or through breast-feeding after birth.

In health care, some workers have been infected with HIV after being stuck with needles containing HIV-infected blood or, less frequently, after infected blood gets into a worker's open cut or a mucous membrane (for example, the eyes or inside of the nose). There has been only one instance of patients being infected by a health care worker in the United States; this involved HIV transmission from one infected dentist to six patients. Investigations have been completed involving more than 22,000 patients of 63 HIV-infected physicians, surgeons, and dentists, and no other cases of this type of transmission have been identified in the United States.

Many people think that HIV might be transmitted in other ways. However, this isn't true. If HIV could be transmitted through other ways such as through air, water, or insects, the pattern of reported AIDS cases would be much different from what it is today. For example, if mosquitoes could transmit HIV infection, many more young children and preadolescents would have been diagnosed with AIDS. Teenagers can protect themselves from getting HIV by not having unprotected sex, or sharing needles -- ever! Always use a condom if you choose to have sex, and never use someone else's needle for drugs or piercing.

Being HIV positive does not mean that a person has full-blown AIDS, and not everyone who gets HIV develops full-blown AIDS. When one fully develops AIDS, the signs and symptoms become more evident. These symptoms include: a failing immune system, persistent swollen lymph nodes and opportunistic infections. Most commonly, people die from the cancers and other opportunistic infections caused from AIDS rather than from the virus itself. One of the most common opportunistic infection seen in AIDS is Pneumocytis carinii pneumonia (PCP), which is caused by a fungus that normally exists in the airways of all people. This is a serious, life-threatening disease. Therefore, the better the infections are treated, the longer the person may live. Since the immune system is what is being attacked, the body cannot fight off the disease without drugs. If treatment for opportunist infections is stopped, a relapse is almost definite.

  • Shaking hands spreads germs not HIV
    Shaking hands...spreads germs
    not HIV

    Shaking hands spreads germs not HIV
    The only bad thing about sharing drinks...Is backwash. Sharing drinks does not spread HIV.
    AIDS only affects homosexuals and sex workers (prostitutes)
  • You can get HIV if you share eating utensils such as forks, spoons, and cups
  • HIV is transmitted through mosquito bites
  • Top partner during vaginal sex is not at risk
  • HIV is not transmitted through oral sex
  • If both partners are HIV positive, then there is no need for condom use
  • People over 50 don't get HIV
  • Having sex with a virgin will cure you
  • If you are HIV positive, it is impossible for you to have children
  • You don't need a condom for oral sex because you cannot get infected with HIV through oral sex
  • You die right away form HIV
  • You can get HIV through donating blood
  • HIV is transmitted through sharing toilet seats
  • You can get HIV if an HIV positive person sneezes or spits on you
  • You cannot get HIV from receiving oral sex
  • HIV is not transmitted though having anal sex
  • Breast milk does not have HIV in it
  • AIDS only affects homosexuals and sex workers (prostitutes)
  • You can get HIV if you share eating utensils such as forks, spoons, and cups
  • HIV is transmitted through mosquito bites
  • Top partner during vaginal sex is not at risk
  • HIV is not transmitted through oral sex
  • If both partners are HIV positive, then there is no need for condom use
  • People over 50 don't get HIV
  • Having sex with a virgin will cure you
  • If you are HIV positive, it is impossible for you to have children
  • You don't need a condom for oral sex because you cannot get infected with HIV through oral sex
  • You die right away form HIV
  • You can get HIV through donating blood
  • HIV is transmitted through sharing toilet seats
  • You can get HIV if an HIV positive person sneezes or spits on you
  • You cannot get HIV from receiving oral sex
  • HIV is not transmitted though having anal sex
  • Breast milk does not have HIV in it.

Although many people believe these myths about HIV and AIDS, they are NOT TRUE. HIV is transmitted through unprotected vaginal anal and/or oral sex with an infected partner, or through the sharing of needles. Anyone who engages in these practices is at risk. To learn more about how to protect yourself from contracting HIV and other STDs, visit

PROTECT YOURSELF -- IT'S WORTH IT!