Chances are your teen knows far more about AIDS (Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome) and its transmission than you do. In most school systems teachers have found innovative ways of conveying the seriousness of the spread of AIDS. Health classes cover how AIDS is spread and how it isn't.
The reality is grim. Studies show that because people with HIV (the virus that causes AIDS and AIDS-related complex) usually don't display symptoms for many years, many of the cases of AIDS that are appearing in people in their twenties were contracted while these individuals were teenagers. You (and your teen) should know the following about AIDS.
How AIDS Is Transmitted
AIDS is transmitted by an infected person in four ways:
- Through sexual contact
- By sharing needles while injecting drugs
- Through transfusion or injection of infected blood
- Through pregnancy—an infected pregnant woman can pass on the disease to her unborn baby
A person can be infected with HIV and not show any symptoms or seem to be ill in any way. However, even without symptoms the person can transmit the disease to others.
Though they can test for the hidden virus shortly after exposure (three to six months afterwards gives the most accurate results), few teens test for it, and even those who do fail to inform their past or future sexual partners. Even one sexual encounter can result in the transmission of AIDS, so it is vital that teens use adequate protection (condoms) for every sexual experience.
Stress to your teen that precautions for safe sex should be taken until both partners have been monogamous for a period of time and have tested negative for HIV.
How AIDS Is Not Transmitted
AIDS is not an air-born virus. It is transmitted through the blood, semen, and other bodily fluids, and is not spread by the following:
- Shaking hands, sharing meals, touching doorknobs, or using the same drinking fountains or toilet seats
- Social kissing, hugging, petting, or cuddling
- Coughing or sneezing
- Being close to an infected person (or having them serve food to you in a restaurant)
- Sharing anything from a swimming pool, bed linens, eating utensils, or office equipment, including the telephone
Whether or not AIDS is spread through saliva (such as in French kissing) is currently debated, but the general feeling is that it is unlikely.