Information / Contacts

“You may not remember AIDS in its early years. Or maybe you were born long after the time when widespread misinformation about AIDS caused needless suffering. Let’s make sure those days never return”

AIDS is not over. Approximately 1 in every 250 people in the United States are HIV positive. However, only 75% of our population is tested.

As AIDS continued to spread, infecting people at an alarming rate, we must double our efforts to stop the spread of HIV. Every hour of every day a person under 25 contracts HIV. HIV/AIDS is completely preventable and you have the power to keep yourself safe by knowing the facts.

Myth: AIDS Is a Death Sentence

Reality:In the early 1980s and before, people with HIV/AIDS died almost before the disease could be identified. Much has changed since then. Antiretroviral therapy has made it possible for people to live for decades with HIV infection. When taken as directed by your physician, antiretroviral can improve the quality of your life and health for many, many years.

In the meantime, research is ongoing into the causes of HIV, better ways to treat it and potential cures.

Myth: HIV only affects gay men or drug users

Reality: HIV is an equal opportunity virus. It can affect newborn babies, women, seniors, teens and people of any race or nationality. Any behavior such as unsafe sex, multiple sexual partners or intravenous drug use can put you at risk for HIV infection and AIDS. In fact, women are increasingly becoming HIV-infected. This usually happens through sharing HIV-contaminated needles or sex with an HIV-infected person.

The Center for Disease Control in the United States estimates that nearly a third of new HIV infections in the United States involved women. Worldwide, about as many women as men are HIV-infected. In areas like sub-Saharan Africa, nearly 60% of adults with HIV are women.

Myth: AIDS can be cured by the new drugs available

Reality: There is no cure for HIV infection. Highly active antiretroviral therapy (HAART) helps manage symptoms and the amount of the virus in the body, but it is not a cure. People with HIV who are receiving HAART are living longer and longer. However, if HAART is stopped, the virus becomes stronger and eventually develops into AIDS.

Myth: HIV testing is . . .

. . . unreliable
. . . pointless
. . . unnecessary because I would know if my lover or I had HIV

Reality: You can have – and spread – HIV for up to 10 years without having any symptoms of HIV or AIDS. HIV affects each individual differently. It is possible to look and feel healthy for years. The only sure way to know if you have HIV infection is to get tested.

Today, testing for HIV is more reliable than tests for many other diseases. The accuracy in establishing whether a person does – or does not – have HIV infection is quite high and reliable. Usually when a test comes back HIV positive, the test is repeated or other test are done to check for viral genetic material in body fluids and cells to confirm the first test results.

Knowing if you have HIV, gives you the power to seek treatment when it will be most effective. It also makes it possible for you to avoid spreading the infection to others.

Myth: HIV/AIDS cannot be transmitted . . .

. . . if you’re on antiretroviral therapy
. . . If you use birth control methods like diaphragms, cervical caps, sponges, spermicides or the Pill
. . . If you use your own needles when taking drugs and don’t share them

Reality: Anti-retroviral helps keep the symptoms of HIV infection under control. It helps keep the amount of virus in the body as low as possible. It does not cure HIV or AIDS. Even when the virus can’t be detected by the tests we have available today, it is still in the body. It can still be spread to others.

Spermicides, diaphragms, caps, sponges and the Pill are all aimed at preventing conception. They do not protect against the spread of sexually transmitted diseases such as HIV

Sharing contaminated hypodermic needles can spread HIV infection. But what many people don’t realize is that sharing the tools used to prepare for an intravenous drug injection can also spread HIV infection.

Myth: Anti-retroviral drugs are toxic and more dangerous than the HIV itself

Reality: Anti-retroviral drugs are powerful. Taken in combinations of two or more drugs at a time, they can keep HIV infection in check for long periods. Antiretroviral drugs have reduced the death rate from HIV/AIDS by 80%. At the same time, they have made dramatic improvements in the quality of life for people who have HIV infection.

At the same time, anti-retroviral drugs have side effects of their own and can cause interactions for other drugs that a person may need to take for opportunistic infections.

Educating yourself about the drugs you are taking, knowing what side effects to look for and working in partnership with a doctor whom you trust can keep the drawbacks of anti-retroviral therapy low.

Myth: HIV/AIDS doesn’t really exist because there are so many diseases associated with HIV/AIDS infection, one virus can’t cause them all

AIDS doesn’t cause the other diseases that a person with HIV/AIDS often gets – they are the result of having HIV/AIDS. The way HIV works in the body is to weaken the immune system. Common bacteria and viruses that everyone has on and in their bodies can’t be controlled by the weakened immune system. As a result, a person with HIV/AIDS develops diseases such as Pneumocystis jiroveci pneumonia (PCP), thrush, Kaposi’s sarcoma, Mycobacterium avium complex (MAC) and others. These are called opportunistic infections. The types of infections that a person with HIV develops depend on what he or she is exposed to in the surrounding environment.

Myth: HIV/AIDS can be spread by . . .
. . . casual contact with a person who has HIV
. . . mosquitoes
. . . being tattooed
. . . breathing the air around an HIV-infected person
. . . toilet seats or doorknobs
. . . touching, hugging, holding hands or cheek kissing an HIV-infected person
. . . kissing an HIV-infected person
. . . sharing silverware or plates with an HIV-infected person
. . . sharing exercise equipment or playing sports with an HIV-infected person

Reality: HIV is spread only when someone is exposed to blood, semen, vaginal fluid or mother’s milk from someone who is infected with HIV. The virus doesn’t live long in the open environment outside the body. There is virtually no evidence that HIV infection can be spread from tears or sweat. Even saliva has a very little viral content. (The risk goes up, however, if either person has blood in their mouth from cuts, open sores or gum disease.)

HIV infection can’t be spread by day-to-day contact at work, school or social settings. Shaking someone’s hand, hugging them, using the same toilet, drinking from the same glass, being nearby when someone with HIV coughs or sneezes – none of these activities spreads HIV infection. Even open-mouthed kissing is relatively low risk.

During a mosquito bite, the mosquito injects its own saliva into the person it is biting. It is not injecting blood from the last person the mosquito bit. Mosquito saliva can carry infections such as malaria, dengue fever, yellow fever or West Nile virus. That is how a person can get those infections from a mosquito bite. HIV cannot be transmitted in that way.

The chance of getting infected while being tattooed is low because HIV can’t survive well in the open air. Tattooing if precautions aren’t used can spread other diseases, including hepatitis. Using disposable needles, proper cleaning and sterilization of equipment eliminates much of the infection risk from tattooing.

While a woman with HIV who is pregnant can spread the virus to her child during childbirth or pregnancy, it doesn’t happen as often as you might expect. A pregnant woman with HIV who receives no treatment at all, will give birth to an HIV-infected baby about 25% of the time. With today’s antiretroviral therapy, however, the rate of transmission from mother to child has dropped to about 2%.

For more information please contact:

Lewis County Public Health and Social Services
Community Outreach
360 N.W. North Street
Chehalis, WA 98532
Phone: 360-740-1375

Additional Contacts:

United Way of Lewis County
450 N.W. Pacific Ave.
Chehalis, WA 98532
Phone: 360-748-8100

Lewis County AIDS Walk:

A Hike For Hope: