World AIDS Day is celebrated on Dec. 1. This annual event draws awareness to the challenges of the AIDS epidemic, which continues to spread throughout the world. The 2000 World AIDS Day theme is “All Men – Make a Difference!” The goal of the theme is to encourage greater awareness of the risk of HIV/AIDS among all men. It is also hoped that this increased awareness will stimulate all men to use their influence to stem the tide of the HIV/AIDS epidemic.
Know the facts. HIV is the Human Immunodeficiency Virus that causes AIDS. According to statistics from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, AIDS is now the fifth leading cause of death among adults ages 25-44 and 50 percent of all new infections are among people under age 25.
Getting information about this disease is the first step in protecting yourself. HIV is a disease with many stages. People can have no symptoms, a few symptoms or many serious symptoms. HIV damages the cells in the body's defense system that fight off infection and disease. As the virus gradually destroys the cells, the body becomes less able to protect itself against illness.
HIV can live in an infected person's body for months or years before any sign of illness appears. This means that carriers of HIV can pass the disease on to others without ever knowing they are infected. Eventually, the immune system gets so weak that other diseases and infections can enter the body. This stage of HIV is called AIDS.
HIV is spread through blood and body fluids. You are at risk if you have had sex with a man or woman who has had other partners; have shared injection drug needles; or had sex with someone who had a blood transfusion before 1985 (when HIV testing began), or had sex with someone who did.
Take the test. The only way to know for sure if you have HIV is to have an HIV test. The test can be confidential or anonymous. Your Student Health Center offers a confidential test. This means your name is known and the results become part of your medical record. You should ask who has access to your medical records before taking a confidential test. At the Student Health Center, access to this information is possible only with your written authorization, specifically requesting HIV results. The test can be done for free through the Alaska state lab, however the results take about three weeks. The test can also be sent to a local lab for $10, with results in about two days. You must get your test results in person.
Anonymous testing means you are the only one who will know your test result. You use a code name or number when you take the test and get your result. The advantage of this method is that no one can trace your identity. This can protect you from discrimination.
What the results mean. If the test is negative, either you have not been exposed to the virus, or you are infected and your body has not yet made antibodies to it. It can take up to six months after infection for antibodies to show up. This is called the “window period.” To be sure your test is accurate, you should have it done again at least six months after any risky behavior. A negative test does not mean you can't get HIV in the future.
If the first test is positive, a confirmation test is done. A positive result means that antibodies to the HIV virus are in your blood. This means that you are infectious and need to avoid passing the disease on to others. You will be referred to appropriate medical and psychological health care providers.
Talk to your partner. Just talking about sex is hard enough, but talking about HIV and safer sex can be even harder. Verbal communication is essential to a good relationship. It is important to talk with your partner about your sexual histories. If you don't completely trust someone, don't have sex with them. You are trusting that person with your life. If your partner resists talking about safer sex, he/she may not want to practice safe sex. How close do you want to be to someone who doesn't want to be safe? How much does he/she really care for you? Before you have sex, consider getting an HIV test and asking your partner to do the same.
Protect yourself. Don't allow any of your partner's semen, blood, menstrual blood or vaginal secretions to enter your body. Use a new latex condom and a water-based lubricant every time for vaginal or anal sex. Both men and women should carry condoms and use them. Condoms are available free at the Student Health Center.
Don't use oil-based lubricants. Hand creams, massage oils, Vaseline, etc., can cause a condom to leak or break. Use a new latex condom or barrier every time for oral sex. Never share sex toys. If you do, wash them and cover them with a new condom each time. Don't have sex when you're drunk or high. Using alcohol or other drugs affects judgment and can lead to unsafe sex. Be careful out there!
Treatment. Current drug therapies can prolong life and slow the disease process, but there is still no cure for AIDS.