Some people are so fearful of infection by HIV, the virus that can cause AIDS, they won't shake hands with someone who is HIV-positive.
But you can't get the infection unless you have unprotected sexual contact with an infected person, share needles, or come in contact with infected blood or blood products.
HIV isn't transmitted by casual contact. You cannot get it from sharing water fountains, toilet seats, pencils, or pens. And it's not spread through coughing or sneezing, tears, sweat, urine, or saliva.
To protect yourself from the deadly AIDS virus, it's imperative to understand how it is spread.
Homosexuals and heterosexuals alike are at risk. Infected people can pass HIV to anyone with whom they have intimate contact. Men can infect female or male partners, as can women. If you have many sexual partners, you increase your chances of encountering someone who's infected.
To protect yourself, use condoms unless you're absolutely certain your partner isn't HIV-positive.
Injecting drugs with someone who's HIV-positive puts you at risk. Dried blood can stay on a needle or inside a syringe, then be transferred to the next user. Because you can't tell by looking whether a person has HIV, sharing needles is always dangerous.
You're also at risk if you have any part of your body pierced or get a tattoo. If you have either of these procedures, make sure the person providing the service uses only new, sterile needles.
Today, blood that is used in transfusions in the United States is rigorously tested for HIV and several other contagious viruses, so there is only a very slight chance of getting HIV from a transfusion. That wasn't the case a decade ago.
The following steps can help you prevent the spread of HIV and AIDS:
Find out all you can about HIV and AIDS so you can protect yourself. Share your knowledge with family members and friends.
If you don't know your partner's sexual history, abstain from sexual relations or use a condom when having sex.
Don't inject drugs of any kind. Don't share needles or syringes. Seek medical help if you have a drug problem.
Have an HIV test if you've participated in unsafe sex or drug use. Encourage friends to do the same.
Postpone pregnancy if it's possible you've been infected. Unborn children can contract the disease from their mothers, although there are medications that can prevent this. Your doctor can offer advice, as can family-planning services.
Education is key to AIDS prevention. For further information, contact these resources: American Sexual Health Association website and hotline, 919-361-8488, and HIV/AIDS Education and Resource Center.