Talking to Kids About AIDS (page 2)
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.
How HIV Spreads
- Sex with someone who has had multiple sex partners or who won't openly discuss past sexual experiences.
- Unprotected sex (anal, vaginal or oral) with an infected person.
- Sex with someone who injects or has injected drugs.
- Using needles or syringes that were used by someone before.
- Not having sex (abstaining)
- Not injecting drugs
- Sex with one steady, uninfected partner -- wait until you and your partner are committed to a relationship.
Children at different maturity levels handle AIDS information differently. You are the best judge of what to say and how much they can understand.
Ages 5 to 7
Children 5 and under have a difficult time understanding the difference between real and imaginary, while children 5 to 7 are beginning to separate real from imaginary. They learn best from experience. When confronted with a topic they do not know about or have not experienced, they may respond by being fearful.
Children 5 to 7 have many fears, and the best way to help your child is to provide reassurance and ask him or her to talk about fears. With AIDS receiving so much attention, it's possible your child is asking questions or is too afraid to ask questions. A child 5 to 7 is probably not ready for all the details, but a simple explanation is important. An example might be:
AIDS is a sickness caused by a certain type of germ called a virus. The virus is carried in some people's blood and body fluids. You can't get AIDS from touching someone or being around a person with AIDS like you can catch a cold from a friend. You can't get AIDS from being in the same school as someone with AIDS. You can't get it from pets, flowers, mosquitos, toilet seats, water glasses or hugs.
You may have heard that some children have AIDS. Some children may have been born with it because their mothers had it, or some got AIDS from blood transfusions. Now there are tests so donated blood with AIDS is not used and so people with AIDS can try to avoid giving it to anyone else.
If you ever have questions or are afraid of anything else, please ask me. It helps to talk about fears to find out if they're real or imaginary. If your fears arereal, it helps to learn what we can do to make concerns like AIDS less scary.
You are healthy, and I'm going to help you stay healthy by teaching you to make smart choices.
Your children may ask questions you can't answer. That's OK. Don't be afraid to say you're not sure about an answer, but explain you will find out.
Reprinted with the permission of North Dakota State University.
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