HIV/AIDS and Teens FAQ

Do you know someone who has AIDS? Or maybe you've heard about a celebrity who has it? Here are some quick facts:

  • AIDS is caused by a virus called HIV.
  • If you've got AIDS, your body finds it harder and harder to fight off infections.
  • The most common way to get AIDS is by having sex with someone who has it. But there are other ways, too.

What happens when you get AIDS?

When you get infected with HIV, your body's immune system gets weaker. The immune system is what makes your body able to fight off infection and disease.

It takes time for this to happen. But when it does, it can lead to AIDS and be fatal.

When a person has AIDS, the immune system is so weak it can't fight off viruses or bacteria. And it can't prevent certain kinds of cancer the way a healthy immune system can.

While people can die quickly once they develop AIDS, HIV infections can be treated. It's possible with the right treatment to live a long, healthy life.

How do people get HIV?

People get HIV by contact with body fluids that come from someone who has it. For example, you can get AIDS in these ways:

  • Oral, vaginal, or anal sex without using a condom.
  • Injecting drugs with a needle that has also been used by someone infected with HIV.
  • Using the same needle as someone with HIV when you get a tattoo.

Do only gay people get an HIV infection?

No, you don't have to be gay to get an HIV infection. You can get AIDS from having sex -- without a condom -- with someone of the opposite sex.

How can I avoid getting HIV?

The best way to avoid getting HIV is to not have sex. If you do have sex, you can protect yourself with these steps:

  • Always use a condom when having sex.
  • Only have sex with one person who you know is not infected.
  • Do not use alcohol or drugs. That way you can make smart choices based on clear thinking.

Activities like hugging, kissing, and rubbing against one another don't spread HIV as long as there are no open sores being touched. Also, you can't give yourself HIV by masturbating.


Can I get HIV from getting a tattoo?

Yes, if the person who gives you the tattoo uses the same needle that was used on someone who has HIV.

That's because any activity that can result in blood getting passed from one person to another carries a risk of HIV infection.

Can I get HIV from someone sneezing on me or from touching someone's used tissue?

No. HIV is not passed on in sweat, saliva, or tears.

Some other things to know about catching AIDS:

  • The body fluids that contain the highest concentration of HIV are blood, semen, vaginal fluid, breast milk, and other fluids that contain blood.
  • You can't catch it from casual contact like you can a cold or the flu.
  • Holding hands or touching someone's skin won't cause you to get the virus.
  • Sharing a drinking glass with someone does not spread the virus.
  • Open mouth (French) kissing is very low risk for getting the virus unless there are open sores in the mouth or there is blood present.

How do you know if someone has HIV?

The only way to know for sure whether you or someone else has HIV or AIDS is by testing. A person may be positive for HIV but take more than 10 years to develop symptoms.

If I've had sex that put me at risk, how soon should I get tested?

Most experts recommend waiting to be tested until three months after having sex that put you at risk. That's because it may take that long to develop antibodies that can be found by testing. There are, though, some newer tests that may provide results sooner. Discuss your timing for having tests with your doctor.

It's important to avoid risky behaviors during that three-month period. If you think you are infected, see a doctor right away. He or she can help guide you in the testing.

Where do I go to be tested?

The best thing to do is talk to your health care provider. He or she will:

  • Determine whether or not you should be tested.
  • Explain the testing procedure.
  • Describe your options for testing.
  • Help you locate the nearest testing site.

You can also find out where the nearest testing site is by calling 1-800-CDC-INFO (232-4636). You can call 24 hours a day. The call is confidential. No one will know you called.


Do I have to tell my parents if I want to get tested?

That depends on where you go to be tested. Some clinics want your parents' permission before they offer you a test.

Most clinics are confidential. No one else will be told about your test results. You can call a clinic before going there to find out what its policy is on keeping your test confidential.

It's a good idea, though, to talk with an adult you trust about your concerns. A trusted adult can help you sort through your options. The adult can also help you think about your behavior and what to do about behavior that puts you at risk.

If I decide to get a test, does the person I had sex with need to get tested, too?

The test will tell you only about yourself. Your sexual partner could still have HIV, even if your test is negative.

What happens if my test is positive?

The earlier you get treatment, the better chance you have of being able to stay well. If your test is positive, talk with your health care provider about your treatment options and what you need to do to live a long, healthy life.

Take-Away Tips About AIDS

  • Never have sex without using a condom.
  • Do not use illegal drugs or get tattoos with unclean needles.
  • If you think you may be infected with AIDS, see a doctor right away. You can also call 1-800-CDC-INFO (232-4636).

WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by Dan Brennan, MD on December 05, 2017



SAMHSA: "Tips for Teens: The Truth About HIV/AIDS."

AIDS Healthcare Foundation: "Learn About It."

National HIV and STD Testing Resources: "Frequently asked Questions."

AVERT: "AIDS, Sex and Teens."

FDA web site.

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