April 15, 2016

Dear Miss Osage,

There is a girl in my class who says you can get AIDS from kissing someone. Is that true?

Confused, age 14

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Well, thanks for asking. It can be scary to have this whole world of diseases that are mysterious, on top of learning about sexuality…

The answer is no – one cannot gets HIV/AIDS by kissing someone else, unless there is a way for blood to be exchanged (through an open sore, or other cut). HIV, the Human Immunodeficiency Virus is the virus, that left untreated, can develop into AIDS, Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome. AIDS is the late stage of HIV infection. AIDS is dangerous because the infection weakens the immune system to the point that it can no longer fight off diseases.

Luckily, these days a therapy has been developed (antiretroviral therapy or ART) that suppresses the virus to the levels that make it unlikely it will ever develop into AIDS. Prevention is still highly important.

So, let me clarify just a bit more about spread and contagion…  A person may contract the virus HIV mainly through:

* unprotected sexual activity with an infected person
* sharing of needles that inject drugs or medication
* an infected mother to her baby during pregnancy, birth or breastfeeding

Unprotected sexual activity  means any contact of sexual organs (penis, vulva, vagina or anus) without a barrier such as a condom. A condom is a piece of rubber latex made to fit over an erect, or hard, penis. When used correctly, it can prevent the spread of many STIs or Sexually Transmitted Infections, including HIV. For this purpose, contact would mean the sexual organs of both partners (as opposed to hand to sexual organ). Our sexual organs emit fluids that can transmit diseases and/or be entryways for disease to enter.

Again, about the kissing – HIV  cannot  be spread through saliva alone. So, simple kissing would not be a means of spreading the disease. As long as no blood-to-blood contact happens during kissing, it is safe.

The needles are a concern when people engage in recreational drug use. This means injecting substances into the bloodstream for effects beyond maintaining good health. So again, it is contact with the blood that carries the risk. You will not get HIV from getting a shot at a doctor’s office. Travel outside the US could be cause for concern with a medical clinic’s sanitation procedures. Standards in the United States are very high.

Also, pregnant mothers are routinely tested for HIV so that spread is very uncommon these days from mother to baby.

So, here is a review of activities that are safe in regards to HIV:

* shaking hands
* hugging
* closed mouth kissing
* sexual touch without exchanging body fluids (eg. touch with hands)

Most importantly, everyone has the right to know whether someone they are considering sexual contact with (beyond closed-mouth kissing) is infected with an STI. So, down the line, when this becomes a possibility, remember that asking a potential partner to get tested is just part of mutual care and respect. Being able to talk about this, and honor the request, is one of the signs that people are more ready to become sexual. So, always feel free to insist on having this information.

Thanks again for asking, and as always, choose for health.

Best of Luck ~

         Miss Osage