Hello, My name is Claire Ashcroft and I’m from A.V.E.R.T. I can see by the look on some of your faces that you are wondering exactly what A.V.E.R.T is and what I, as a representative of A.V.E.R.T actually does. Well, A.V.E.R.T is the Aids Education and Research Trust and I’m here to inform you about HIV, AIDS and safe sex.
Throughout the past few and the next few years you will endure many things such as make ups and break ups with your friends and your boyfriends or girlfriends. I’m not here to criticise your lifestyles nor am I here to tell you what is right and wrong because quite frankly your old enough to make up your own mind and make your own decisions. For instance, you all know that no one should be pressurised into having sex when they would rather not. You are all capable of saying no. Then again I am not here to tell you to say no to sex, but on the other hand I’m not here to promote sexual activity amongst people of your age. I am here to inform you about sex, AIDS and HIV because I know that talking about these topics can be difficult for both young people and for adults too. My aim is to make you feel more confident about talking about sex, AIDS and HIV.
So now you know why I am here I will begin by correcting the first misconception that many people have about AIDS and HIV. Most people feel that AIDS and HIV are exactly the same thing, however, they are not. Things brings about the question ‘What Is HIV?’ And the answer is that HIV is an abbreviation for Human Immunodeficiency Virus and HIV is the virus that causes AIDS. People can become infected with HIV and they can then pass it on to other people. A person that is infected with HIV is infected for life. And there is no sure way of telling you have HIV just by looking at someone as people infected with HIV can look and feel well for a long time.
So now that we know what HIV is, ‘What Is AIDS?’ AIDS stands for Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome. A person is said to have AIDS if they are infected with HIV and in addition to this they have developed one of a number of particularly severe illnesses. At this moment in time there is still no cure for AIDS and no vaccine to prevent it. Having AIDS greatly weakens the immune system, making infections that are harmless to healthy people, fatal in people with AIDS.
Now that you have understood what AIDS and HIV is, the next stage is to tell you how you can become infected with HIV. You can become infected by unprotected sexual intercourse with someone who is already infected. Injecting drugs using a needle or syringe, which has already been used by an infected person, can also infect you with HIV. Also an infected pregnant woman can pass the virus onto her unborn baby either before or during birth and it can also be passed on during breastfeeding. Even oral sex with an infected person carries some risk of infection, however it is very rare.
On the other hand you can’t become infected by sharing a cup of cutlery with someone who is infected nor can you become infected by eating food prepared by someone who is infected or touching, hugging, kissing or general contact with an infected person. Using the same toilet as someone who is infected with HIV cannot infect you.
Since the most common way of the infection spreading is through unprotected sexual intercourse, I feel that you should know how to protect yourself, and your partner from HIV/AIDS. If you and your partner decide to have sexual intercourse you need to protect yourselves from HIV and other Sexually Transmitted Infections, or STIs, and using a condom is the only way to reduce the risk of infection. Condoms come in different colours, shapes and flavours. In the UK anyone can buy condoms. It is a myth that you have to be over 16 to purchase condoms. Also you can get them free from a Family Planning Clinic or some GPs. You must always remember to follow the instructions on the box to reduce your changes of getting the infection.
At this time in your life you will be trying new and different things such as alcohol and other drugs and these can increase the risk of HIV because alcohol can make you less aware and careful about the way you behave and can lead to you having unprotected sex, which amongst other things may lead to you having HIV.
But what do you do if you think you may have been at risk of the HIV infection. In the UK you can have a free blood test however, HIV cannot be detected in the blood through a test for three months after the infection takes place. This means that if you are worried about something that happened a few days ago then it will be three months before a test can give a definite result.
If you require any more information I will be handing out fact sheets and cards with telephone help line phone numbers on and I will be here all day to take your questions and hopefully be able to answer them for you.