AIDS stands for acquired immunodeficiency syndrome, a disease that makes it difficult for the body to fight off infectious diseases. The human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) causes AIDS by infecting and damaging part of the body’s defenses against infection, namely the white blood cells known as CD4 helper lymphocytes (pronounced: lim-fuh-sites).

How does someone become infected? HIV can be spread through any type of unprotected sex (oral, vaginal, or anal) if one of the partners has the virus. This can happen when body fluids such as semen (cum), vaginal fluids, or blood from an infected person get into the body of someone who is not infected. Someone can become infected even if only tiny amounts of these fluids are spread. Everyone who has unprotected sex with an infected person is at risk of contracting HIV, but people who already have another sexually transmitted disease (STD) are even more at risk.

HIV can be spread sexually from a guy to a girl, a girl to a guy, a guy to a guy, and a girl to a girl.

Sharing needles to inject drugs or steroids is another way that HIV can be passed to other people. Sharing of needles for tattoos, piercings, and body art can also lead to infection. Someone with HIV who shares a needle also shares the virus, which lives in the tiny amounts of blood attached to the needle. Sharing needles also can pass hepatitis and other serious infections to another person.

Also, newborn babies are at risk of getting the HIV virus from their mothers if they’re infected. This can happen before the baby is born, during birth, or through breastfeeding. Pregnant teensand women should be tested for HIV because infected women who receive treatment for HIV are much less likely to spread the virus to their babies. Babies born to mothers infected with HIV are also given special medicines to try to prevent HIV infection.

hat Is It?

The human immunodeficiency virus (HIV)is one of the most serious, deadly diseases in human history. HIV causes a condition called acquired immunodeficiency syndrome — better known as AIDS.

HIV destroys a type of defense cell in the body called a CD4 helper lymphocyte (pronounced: lim-fuh-site). These lymphocytes are part of the body’s immune system, the defense system that fights infections. When HIV destroys these lymphocytes, the immune system becomes weak and people can get serious infections that they normally wouldn’t.

As the medical community learns more about how HIV works, they’ve been able to develop medications to inhibit it (meaning they interfere with its growth). These medicines have been successful in slowing the progress of the disease.

If people with HIV get treated, they can live long, relatively healthy lives — just as people who have other chronic diseases like diabetes can. But, as with diabetes or asthma, there is still no cure for HIV and AIDS.

How Do People Get It?

Thousands of U.S. teens and young adults get infected with HIV each year. HIV can be transmitted from an infected person to another person through blood, semen (also known as “cum,” the fluid released from the penis when a male ejaculates), vaginal fluids, and breast milk.

The virus is spread through what doctors call “high-risk behaviors,” which include things like:

  • having unprotected oral, vaginal, or anal sexual intercourse (“unprotected” means not using a condom)
  • sharing needles, such as needles used to inject drugs, steroids, and other substances, or sharing needles used for tattooing

Other risk factors:

  • People who have another sexually transmitted disease (STD) (such as syphilis, genital herpes, chlamydia, gonorrhea, or bacterial vaginosis) are at greater risk for getting HIV during sex with infected partners.
  • If a woman with HIV is pregnant, her newborn baby can catch the virus from her before birth, during the birthing process, or from breastfeeding.If doctors know a mom-to-be has HIV, they can usually prevent the spread of the virus from mother to baby. So all pregnant women should be tested for HIV so they can begin treatment if necessary.

How Does HIV Affect the Body?

A healthy body has CD4 helper lymphocyte cells (CD4 cells). These cells help the immune system function normally and fight off certain kinds of infections. They do this by acting as messengers to other types of immune system cells, telling them to become active and fight against an invading germ.

HIV attaches to these CD4 cells. The virus then infects the cells and uses them as a place to multiply. In doing so, the virus destroys the ability of the infected cells to do their job in the immune system. The body then loses the ability to fight many infections.

Because their immune systems are weakened, people who have AIDS are unable to fight off many infections, particularly tuberculosis and other kinds of otherwise rare infections of the lung (such as Pneumocystis carinii pneumonia), the surface covering of the brain (meningitis), or the brain itself (encephalitis). People who have AIDS tend to keep getting sicker, especially if they are not taking antiviral medications properly.

AIDS can affect every body system. The immune defect caused by having too few CD4 cells also permits some cancers that are stimulated by viral illness to occur — some people with AIDS get forms of lymphoma and a rare tumor of blood vessels in the skin called Kaposi’s sarcoma.

Because AIDS is fatal, it’s important that doctors detect HIV infection as early as possible so a person can take medication to delay the onset of AIDS.

How Do People Know They Have HIV?

Severe symptoms of HIV infection and AIDS may not appear for as long as 10 years (or more for some people). For years leading up to that, people with HIV may not notice any signs that they have the virus.

How long it takes for symptoms of HIV/AIDS to appear varies from person to person. Some people may feel and look healthy for years while they are infected with HIV. It is still possible to infect others with HIV, even if the person with the virus has absolutely no symptoms. You cannot tell simply by looking at someone whether he or she is infected.

Doctors diagnose someone with AIDS when that person’s blood lacks the number of CD4 cells required to fight infections. Doctors also diagnose AIDS if the person has signs of specific illnesses or diseases that occur in people with HIV infection.

When a person’s immune system is overwhelmed by AIDS, he or she might notice:

  • extreme weakness or fatigue
  • rapid weight loss
  • frequent fevers that last for several weeks with no explanation
  • heavy sweating at night
  • swollen lymph glands
  • minor infections that cause skin rashes and mouth, genital, and anal sores
  • white spots in the mouth or throat
  • chronic diarrhea
  • a cough that won’t go away
  • trouble remembering things
  • in girls, severe vaginal yeast infections that don’t respond to usual treatment

How Can It Be Prevented?

One of the reasons that HIV is so dangerous is that a person can have the virus for a long time without knowing it. That person can then spread the virus to others through high-risk behaviors.

HIV transmission can be prevented by:

  • not having oral, vaginal, or anal sex (abstinence)
  • always using latex condoms for all types of sexual intercourse
  • avoiding contact with the bodily fluids through which HIV is transmitted
  • never sharing needles

How Do Doctors Test for and Treat HIV?

Doctors now recommend that all people have at least one HIV test by the time they are teens. If you are having sex, have had sex in the past, or shared needles with someone else, your doctor will probably recommend that you get tested at least once a year.

If you have questions about HIV and want to get tested, you can talk to your family doctor, pediatrician, adolescent doctor, or gynecologist.

People also can get tested for HIV/AIDS at pretty much any clinic or hospital in the country. Clinics offer both anonymous testing (meaning the clinic doesn’t know a person’s name) and confidential testing (meaning they know who a person is but keep it private). Most clinics will ask you to follow up for counseling to get your results, whether the test is negative or positive.

The HIV test can be either a blood test or a swab of the inside of your cheek. Depending on what type of test is done, results may take from a few minutes to several days. Let the doctor know the best way to reach you confidentially with any test results.

If you had unprotected sex with someone you know has HIV or if you were raped or forced to have sex by someone, see your doctor or go to the emergency room right away. They they might be able to give you medications to prevent HIV infection (within 72 hours), and do the appropriate follow-up testing.

If you’re not sure how to find a doctor or get an HIV test, you can contact the National AIDS Hotlines at (800) 342-AIDS (English) or (800) 344-7432 (Spanish). A specialist there will explain what you should do next.

There is no cure for HIV. That’s why prevention is so important. Combinations of antiviral drugs and drugs that boost the immune system have allowed many people with HIV to resist infections, stay healthy, and prolong their lives, but these medications are not a cure. Right now there is no vaccine to prevent HIV and AIDS, although researchers are working on developing one.

Reviewed by: Nadia Dowshen-Atanda, MD
Date reviewed: February 2012

f a person who is infected with HIV gives a partner oral sex, can the partner become infected with HIV?
– Dan

Yes. Although rare, it is possible to transmit HIV through givingand receiving oral sex.

When someone with HIV gives oral sex, the virus can go from small (sometimes not visible) cuts or sores in the mouth into the uninfected person’s body through the urethra (the opening at the tip of the penis where sperm comes out), vagina, or anus. When someone with HIV receives oral sex, the virus can enter the other person’s body when semen (cum) or vaginal fluids get into the mouth.

5 Ideas for Better Sleep

Most teens need about 8½ to more than 9 hours of sleep each night. But about 1 in 4 teens has trouble sleeping. Lack of sleep can affect everything from our emotions to how well we focus on tasks like driving. It can affect sports performance, increase our chances of getting sick, and may be linked to weight gain in some people.

How can we get the sleep we need? Here are some ideas:

  1. Be active during the day. You’ve probably noticed how much running around little kids do — and how soundly they sleep. Take a tip from a toddler and get at least 60 minutes of exercise a day. Physical activity can decrease stress and help people feel more relaxed. Just don’t work out too close to bedtime because exercise can wake you up before it slows you down.
  2. Avoid alcohol and drugs. Lots of people think that alcohol or drugs will make them relaxed and drowsy, but that’s not the case. Drugs and alcohol disrupt sleep, increasing a person’s chance of waking up in the middle of the night.
  3. Say goodnight to electronics. Experts recommend using the bedroom for sleep only. If you can’t make your bedroom a tech-free zone, at least shut everything down an hour or more before lights out. Nothing says, “Wake up, something’s going on!” like the buzz of a text or the ping of an IM.
  4. Keep a sleep routine. Going to bed at the same time every night helps the body expect sleep. Creating a set bedtime routine can enhance this relaxation effect. So unwind every night by reading, listening to music, spending time with a pet, writing in a journal, playing Sudoku, or doing anything else that relaxes you.
  5. Expect a good night’s sleep. Stress can trigger insomnia, so the more you agonize about not sleeping, the greater the risk you’ll lie awake staring at the ceiling. Instead of worrying that you won’t sleep, remind yourself that you can. Say, “Tonight, I will sleep well” several times during the day. It can also help to practice breathing exercises or gentle yoga poses before bed.


Everyone has a sleepless night once in a while. But if you regularly have trouble sleeping and you think it’s affecting your mood or performance, talk to your doctor.

reast development is usually a sign that a girl is entering puberty. Most girls’ breasts start to develop before their first periods. During puberty, every girl’s breasts go through regular changes. As you grow and develop, you may notice small lumps and other changes in your breasts, and during your period, you may find your breasts are sensitive and tender. Most of these developments are totally normal.

Getting into the habit of examining your breasts when you’re still in your teens can help you get used to the way they normally look and feel. When you become familiar with them, it will be easier to recognize anything unusual.

Why Do I Need Breast Exams?

If you go for an annual checkup with a doctor, he or she will likely examine your breasts to evaluate your development and ensure that all changes are normal. Your doctor may recommend that you get into the practice of examining your breasts yourself — called a breast self-examination (BSE) — and can show you how to do this.

A BSE can help women detect cysts or other benign (noncancerous) breast problems between checkups. It can also help some women detect breast cancer — a disease that’s extremely rare among teens.

It’s easy to perform a breast self-examination, and it only takes a few minutes. Although it might seem strange or inconvenient at first, BSE is a skill you can use throughout your life to help ensure good breast health.

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