Frequently Asked Questions

Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS) is a disease in which the body’s natural immune (protection) system breaks down, leaving it unable to fight off infections. A person with AIDS gets illnesses that are little or no threat to others with a healthy immune system.

The virus called the Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) causes AIDS. HIV is present in the blood and other body fluids such as the semen or vaginal secretions of an infected person.

You can get HIV/AIDS through any of the following ways:

  • By having unprotected sexual intercourse with an infected person.
  • By sharing drug needles with an infected person
  • Through the transmission of blood from an infected source (In Jamaica, all blood entering the blood bank is thoroughly screened for HIV)
  • An infected mother can pass the virus on to her child either during pregnancy, at birth or through breast-feeding.
  • Persons who have sex without a condom
  • Persons with many sex partners
  • Persons who have had repeated Sexually Transmitted Infections
  • Male and female sex workers
  • Sexually active homosexual and bisexual males
  • Persons who have sex with someone who is HIV positive
  • Past or present users of needles to inject illicit drugs

HIV is a silent virus which slowly destroys the body’s immune system. The immune system protects the body from infections. Without a properly functioning immune system, an HIV positive person can have difficulty fighting off common infections.

A person with HIV can live for many years without showing any outward signs of illness. The majority of persons infected with HIV do not know they have the virus. However, they can infect others. Persons who have been infected with HIV will eventually develop AIDS.

You can take an HIV test to know if you are infected. This test should be done after proper pre-test counseling. An HIV test should be done 3-6 weeks after someone suspects that they have been infected. The test looks for HIV antibodies, which would mean that the virus is present.

The symptoms of AIDS resemble that of many other diseases, however, when two or more of the following are present one may be suspected of having HIV/AIDS:

  • Rapid weight loss
  • Fatigue
  • Swollen glands in the neck, armpits or groin
  • Diarrhoea and loss of appetite lasting more than a month

No, you cannot get AIDS through casual contact. There are no cases of persons getting the disease by shaking hands, sharing the same glass or utensils, using the same toilets, telephones or any other articles.

Yes. HIV/AIDS can be prevented. Here are some ways to help prevent the spread of AIDS:

  • Abstain or delay sex
  • Be faithful to one uninfected partner
  • Use a latex condom everytime you have (vaginal, anal, oral) sex
  • Do not do drugs or share injection needles
  • Do not have sex with prostitutes
  • Seek early and complete treatment for STIs
  • Get facts on STIs and AIDS

No. Mosquitoes cannot transmit HIV.

You cannot get HIV from kissing an infected person on the cheek. Where saliva is exchanged, it is unlikely that the virus will be transmitted. However the risk increases if an infected person has a sore or cut in the mouth.

Yes, AIDS can be transmitted if there is an exchange of blood, semen, or vaginal secretions between an infected and an uninfected person, especially if there is a cut or sore on the infected person’s penis or vagina.

Yes, if your partner has HIV, blood from a cut or sore in the mouth can enter the urethra (the opening at the tip of the penis) or the vagina and you may become infected. However using a dental dam or latex condom during oral sex reduces the risk of transmission.

Yes. It is possible to get HIV from anal sex. The lining of the anus is very thin and can easily tear. Any exchange of blood or semen can transmit HIV.

The risk of getting HIV from tattoo or body piercing needles exists if the needles are not properly sterilized or disinfected. If you are thinking about getting a tattoo or piercing done, ask the staff at the establishment what precautions they take to prevent the spread of HIV.

Condoms are the best way to protect yourself from HIV and other STIs when they are used consistently and correctly.

If the condom breaks during sex, the penis should be removed immediately and washed. A new condom should be used if you decide to resume sex.

HIV can be passed on to an unborn child either in the womb or during birth as the baby passes through the birth canal. HIV can also be transmitted through the mother’s breast milk. However, there is treatment available that can reduce the child’s risk of getting HIV. All pregnant women should request an HIV test from their doctor.

You can get an HIV test at any private doctor’s office, health center or hospital.

You will get your results in 1-6 weeks.

No. Anyone who does an HIV test has the right to confidentiality.

For additional facts on HIV, view the 2008 UNAIDS Fact Sheet

For additional facts on HIV transmission, view the 2008 UNAIDS prevention fact sheet