HIV, or “human immunodeficiency virus,” is the name of the virus that causes a disease called AIDS, or “acquired immunodeficiency syndrome.”
The HIV virus attacks the immune system, destroying the cells that help your body fight off infections. When the HIV infection gets worse and the person with the virus gets sicker, the illness is called AIDS. AIDS can be a deadly illness, and there is no complete cure to get rid of the virus. But there are many medicines that can help people with HIV/AIDS lead long, healthy lives.
HIV does not pass from person to person very easily. It is not spread through sweat, tears or spit. You cannot catch AIDS from hugs, kisses, handshakes, talking to or being in a room with a person with the virus. HIV is also not spread by sneezing, coughing, toilet seats or mosquito bites. HIV is spread through blood and other body fluids, like semen and vaginal fluid, which carry the virus.
Unprotected sex can spread the virus from one person to another. If you or someone around you gets cut or is bleeding, tell a grown-up who can help you safely clean up. Shots from your doctor are perfectly safe, but if you ever find a needle outside the doctor’s office, tell a grown-up immediately and do not touch it. Used needles shared by someone who has the virus are a common way HIV is spread. Remember, if you meet a person with HIV/AIDS, there’s no reason to be scared. You can play with them and be friends with them just like anybody else.
The more you know about HIV/AIDS and how to prevent it, the less scary it is. Do you have questions or concerns about HIV/AIDS? Talk to a parent or trusted grown-up and share your thoughts. Do you know anyone who has HIV/AIDS? Ask if they would like to talk to you about living with the virus. You might be surprised at how similar their lives are to yours!