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What You Need to Know About HIV & AIDS

It’s National Youth HIV & AIDS Awareness Day. Since its emergence, HIV has killed an estimated 36.3 million people globally—and that’s why awareness and education are so important in fighting the spread of this virus. At Weathering Rainbows, we seek to be an educational source for rural LGBTQ+ youth. That’s why we’ve put together this guide, and we hope it helps you build a deeper understanding of HIV/AIDS and prevention measures available to you.

What is the difference between HIV and AIDS?

HIV is the human immunodeficiency virus. It affects the immune system, making it more difficult for people who are infected to fight off illness. AIDS, on the other hand, is a condition. It stands for acquired immunodeficiency syndrome and is the third stage of HIV infection.

When HIV progresses to AIDS, the immune system is heavily affected. Opportunistic infections caused by viruses and bacteria can lead to severe illness and death. Today, many treatments are available for HIV and AIDS. However, life expectancy for those whose infections have progressed to AIDS is still low.

How does HIV spread?

You may already know that HIV spreads through bodily fluids. However, not all fluids carry the virus. Secretions like sweat, saliva, and bodily waste don’t spread HIV. The infection spreads through:

  • blood,

  • semen,

  • pre-seminal fluid,

  • rectal fluid,

  • vaginal fluid,

  • and breast milk.

What are the symptoms of HIV?

Following contact, people infected with HIV may experience symptoms. However, these are often so mild that they go unnoticed. This first bout of symptoms often include:

  • fever,

  • swollen glands,

  • painful ulcers in the mouth or around the anus or penis,

  • headache,

  • rash,

  • and/or muscle and joint pain.

These initial symptoms could last from a few days to a few weeks. Some may persist longer or even recur for years. After the first few years of infection, people with HIV are likely to experience:

  • diarrhea,

  • weight loss,

  • increased infections,

  • and/or infections of increased severity.

How can I protect myself from infection?

It’s important to protect yourself and others from HIV/AIDS. Luckily, there are many effective ways to do so. Prevention methods include:

  • using condoms when you have anal, vaginal, or oral sex;

  • getting tested regularly—and encouraging your sexual partners to do so as well;

  • seeking treatment for sexually transmitted infections, as STIs can increase the likelihood of contracting HIV;

  • not using intravenous drugs (If you do use these drugs, do not share needles.);

  • not sharing items like razors that are likely to come in contact with blood;

  • and talking with a healthcare provider about pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP).

HIV can be scary. However, the infection that was once a death sentence is highly treatable today. In fact, for many people, proper treatment can prevent HIV from progressing to AIDS. For further learning, see the Center for Disease Control’s HIV Information.


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