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May 28, 2007

HIV Information

Posted in: Health Issues

Correct HIV information is crucial, especially for teenagers. Our education system should provide all the necessary information in order to keep our children safe and sound. Nevertheless, if I ask around, I am really shocked about the ignorance and the myths about HIV. You’ve heard the old speech - “when two people fall in love…” - you know the rest. However, it might have paid off to play closer attention to the story about the birds and the bees. Lack of knowledge, or plain, flat out ignorance leads 1 in 4 Americans to contract HIV – that’s 1 every 10 seconds!  Teens and young adults are at the highest risk, due to the incidence of promiscuous, unprotected sex. While half of HIV cases are found in homosexual individuals, heterosexual couples are at equal risk. The disease does not discriminate – it can be contracted during the first contact.

Human immunodeficiency virus was first discovered on June 5th, 1981, perhaps due in part to the “free love” movement of the 1960’s.  Because science was limited in its knowledge of HIV information at the time, the disease underwent several name changes – but remained the same, nearly hopeless virus that eventually transformed into AIDS.   

Human immunodeficiency virus attacks the T cells. T cells, the building blocks of the immune system, are what tell the body that there is something wrong. When the HIV virus enters the body, it comes disguised as one of “the good guys”, so the T Cells have no reason to be suspicious. Floating around the bloodstream, the HIV virus works by killing every T cell it encounters. Normally, a T cell emits a death cry to let the other cells know that a foreign invader is in the body. But the HIV virus “muffles” the cry by wrapping itself around the T cell. Now the agents of the immune system are missing in action. Before the body knows it, its entire immune system is killed. Now it is open to every imaginable infection.  A simple paper cut can turn into a loss of the limb – a winter cold can kill a person in a few days.

Sadly, many people are completely lacking in HIV information. Three causes are most prevalent – sexual intercourse (protected or unprotected), sharing of drug needles and blood transfusions. As you may have deduced, a person can contract HIV through blood or sexual fluid exchange.   

A common myth that many people – and even a few scientists - make about HIV information is that condoms eliminate the risk of contracting HIV. This is not the case. Because condoms are stretchy and flexible, so are the molecules that make up the rubber.  An HIV molecule is smaller then the holes in the rubber, and can pass through. As frightening and unlikely as this scenario is, there are documented cases of this happening.

There is only one, somewhat reliable way of avoiding HIV through sex – and that is to always use a condom. In the case of injection syringes, never use one previously used. 

Another common myth about HIV information is that the virus can be caught through saliva – kissing. This is not at all the case. No matter how long you play tonsil hockey, you will not catch the virus. Educating yourself on HIV information is essential.


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