Talking to Kids About AIDS
What Adults Must Know
Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome (AIDS) is a serious illness and a public health crisis that demands attention. The number of people affected continues to increase. Since reporting began in 1985, a total of 180 HIV infections and 54 AIDS cases have been reported in North Dakota. Individuals who are in their 20s represent the largest age group for HIV infections (39 percent), closely followed by those in their 30s (37 percent).
For years, many adults and young people have convinced themselves it could never happen to them. Stories about famous people such as Magic Johnson and Tommy Morrison have created an awareness that it can happen to anyone.
Some diseases can't be prevented, but AIDS is one we can prevent. It is extremely important for parents, teachers, clergy and other adults in contact with youth to provide honest, accurate information. One of the fastest growing populations of HIV positive and AIDS victims is the teen and young adult category. While people are working hard to assist our youth in abstaining from sexual activity, many choose to be sexually active. These young people need the facts.
AIDS is the life-threatening disease caused by the Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV). The virus depresses the body's immune system, making it hard for the body to resist bacteria and viruses that might cause disease. The infected person is at high risk of diseases such as lung infection, pneumonia and cancer that result in death.
Knowing the facts about AIDS is necessary for individuals to choose healthy behaviors and attitudes.
- Anyone can acquire HIV. Anyone who engages in high-risk behavior with an infected person is likely to get the virus. You can't tell by looking if a person is infected.
- You won't get HIV through everyday contact with people in the workplace, at school, at the swimming pool or in any other casual situation.
- HIV is not passed in saliva, sweat, urine, bowel movements, tears, mosquito bites, clothes, phone receivers or toilet seats. It is not passed by donating blood, eating in restaurants or shaking hands.
- The virus is passed in blood, semen and vaginal fluids. It can enter the body through needle punctures, the rectum, vagina, penis, mouth or any cut or open sore. Anal intercourse is especially risky for both men and women because of the delicate tissues in which capillaries break and cause blood contact. HIV is in the blood, semen or vaginal secretions of an infected person. The two main ways of spreading HIV are having sex and using contaminated needles to inject drugs. In addition, infected women can pass HIV infection to their newborns.
- Other sexually-transmitted diseases (chlamydia, herpes, gonorrhea, syphilis) are also passed on by the same high-risk behavior.
- Abstinence is the only safe choice. Condoms are the best prevention for sexual transmission of HIV, but they aren't foolproof. Latex condoms provide the best protection, but any condom must be used properly and every time.
- AIDS is fatal.
Reprinted with the permission of North Dakota State University.
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