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Young People & HIV

Is HIV an issue for young people?

Across the world, a third of all new HIV infections are among people aged 15-24.1 To be able to protect yourself, you need to know the facts, and know how to avoid becoming infected. You also need to know how to challenge the major myths and misconceptions around HIV and AIDS because they can lead to young people who live with HIV being stigmatised. Watch this short film made by a group of young people living with HIV in the UK to see what they’ve got to say about the subject.

So how do you get infected with HIV?

HIV is passed on in the sexual fluids or blood of an HIV-positive person, so if infected blood or sexual fluid gets into your body, you can become infected. This usually happens by either having sexual intercourse with an HIV-positive person without using a condom or by sharing needles used to inject drugs with an HIV-positive person. People can also be born with HIV if their mother has HIV or get HIV through breastfeeding. A very small number of people get HIV by having medical treatment using infected blood transfusions.

HIV can't be caught by kissing, hugging or shaking hands with a person living with HIV, and it can't be transmitted by sneezes, door handles or dirty glasses. 

How do you get infected with HIV?

How can I have 'safe sex'?

Lots of sexual activities are completely safe. You can kiss, cuddle, massage and rub each other's bodies. Nothing you do on your own can cause you to get HIV - you can't get HIV by masturbating.

How can I reduce the risk when I have sex?

Using a condom is not absolutely safe as condoms can break, but condoms can be very effective if they are used correctly. To find out more about this, see our condoms page.

Oral sex (one person kissing, licking or sucking the sexual areas of another person) does carry a small risk of infection. If a person sucks the penis of an infected man, for example, infected fluid could get into the mouth. The virus could then get into the blood if you have bleeding gums or tiny sores somewhere in the mouth. The same is true if infected sexual fluids from a woman get into the mouth of her partner. But infection from oral sex alone seems to be very rare.

What about using drugs?

If you are using drugs you may take risks you normally wouldn't take, and you may have unsafe sex when you would normally be more careful. If you take drugs, you might find it more difficult to use a condom, or you might forget altogether. One of the most common drugs this can happen with is alcohol - if you're drunk, you might not always know what you're doing, or you might not care.

“If you're drunk, you might not always know what you're doing, or you might not care.”

If you inject drugs, you should always use a clean needle, syringe and spoon, water, etc each time you inject, and never share any of these with anyone else. If you snort drugs, and you use a note or a straw to snort through, you shouldn't share it with anyone else, as blood can be passed from the inside of one person's nose to another.

And tattoos or piercings?

If you have a tattoo or a piercing, you should make sure that the needles and equipment used are sterile. Ask the staff at the place you have it done about what precautions they use.

Can you get infected your first time?

If you have sex with a partner who has HIV, you can be infected with it, whether it's your first time or not, so use a condom! If it's the first time you have sex or the first time with a new partner, it can be scary enough without having to worry about condoms. But using condoms can be quite sexy - try getting your partner to unroll it for you.

What's the difference between HIV and AIDS?

HIV is the virus that causes AIDS. HIV stands for the 'Human Immunodeficiency Virus' and AIDS stands for the 'Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome'. AIDS is a serious condition that breaks down the body's defences against illness. This means that people with AIDS can get many different kinds of diseases which a healthy person's body would normally fight off quite easily.

How long does it take for HIV to cause AIDS?

These days, there are many drugs (called antiretroviral drugs) that can be used to help people with HIV. People living with HIV can be treated for a very long time with antiretroviral drugs that prevent or delay the onset of AIDS. If someone infected with HIV does not take treatment, then it usually takes around ten years for AIDS to develop - however this varies from person to person. Many people around the world do not have access to antiretroviral treatment and that's why people continue to die from AIDS.

Is there a cure?

There is no cure for HIV or AIDS.

How can I tell if someone's infected with HIV?

There is no way to tell just by looking at someone whether they have HIV. Someone can be living with HIV but have no symptoms and still look perfectly healthy. They might also feel perfectly healthy and not know themselves that they have HIV. The only way to know if a person has HIV or not is if they have an HIV test.

How can I get tested?

You may find it helpful to talk to an adult - perhaps a parent, school nurse or teacher may be able to advise you where you can have a test. It's much better to talk to someone than to worry on your own. The clinic will suggest that you wait three months after your last risky sexual contact before having a test. This is because the virus is difficult to detect immediately after infection.

Will they tell my parents?

The clinics in different places have different policies. Most (but not all) clinics have a confidentiality policy, and will not tell anyone, although some places will want to bring a parent to give consent. You can phone the clinic before you go to find out.

What will they do?

Before they do anything, the doctor or nurse will ask if you're sure you want to have a test. They will usually take a sample of blood from you to examine. If you also want to be tested for STD's, they may take a urine sample, or they might ask if they can take a swab from the vagina or penis. Some places can give you the results on the same day, in other places you may have to wait for a week or more. While you wait, you shouldn't have sexual contact with anyone.

I have HIV - what should I do?

Talk to your doctor or the clinician where you got tested. They will give you more advice about how to stay healthy. They will also be able to tell you if you need to have any other blood tests done, and talk to you about medication. Further advice on telling people you are HIV-positive can be found in the 'Who to tell' section of our Learning You Are HIV Positive page.

"We scheduled an appointment and they told my mom to bring me that week, so she did. We went to my appointment and the people were very nice and respectful. They took me and my mom in a room and they talked to me. They told me about all the medicine that can keep me alive."Tequilla

More experiences of being young and HIV positive can be found on our stories of young people living with HIV page. AVERT.org also has a Living with HIV section.

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