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Talking With Your Children About HIV: HIV Awareness for Children

November 29, 2015

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Talking With Your Children About HIV: HIV Awareness for Children

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HIV can be a tough subject for parents, guardians, and caregivers to discuss with their children. However it is important that all families educate their children about HIV. There are many reasons you may want to discuss HIV and AIDS with your children: you or a family member is living with HIV (HIV+), your child is living with HIV, or you simply want to help your child understand HIV so that he or she does not become infected.

It is important to note that there can be times when it is not appropriate or safe for women to disclose their status to their children or families. For more information about telling others you or your child is living with HIV, see our article on Disclosure and HIV.

Around the world, young people ages 15 to 24 accounted for two of every five new HIV infections in 2011. An estimated 2.1 billion adolescents and young people -- the largest group ever -- are currently living with HIV. Young women aged 15 to 24 are infected at twice the rate as young men the same age.

In the US, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that young people ages 13 to 29 accounted for over a quarter of all new HIV infections in the US in 2010. Yet over half of young people who are infected do not know that they are living with HIV. A study conducted in 2009 showed that almost half of high school students in the United States reported having had sexual intercourse. Of these, over a third said they did not use a condom during their last sexual encounter and only about one in five has ever been tested for HIV despite recommendations for routine testing. These statistics serve as a serious reminder to parents that they cannot afford to avoid talking with their children about HIV. For more information, see The Well Project's Article on HIV Risk and Teens.

Children and teenagers find out about HIV from all sorts of places: TV, radio, friends, newspapers, magazines, and the Internet. Talking with your children about HIV is an opportunity to provide them with facts and correct any myths or incorrect information they may have picked up outside the home. It is also a chance to develop an open and honest relationship with your children.

The Facts About HIV

Many parents are uncomfortable talking to their children about HIV because they do not have the correct information themselves. Before you talk to your children about HIV, it is important for you to know the facts.

What Is HIV?

  • HIV stands for "Human Immunodeficiency Virus"
  • Without treatment, HIV will eventually wear down the immune system in most people to the point that they develop more serious infections
  • Many people take powerful and effective combinations of medicines to fight the virus; however, there is no cure for HIV

What Is AIDS?

  • AIDS stands for "Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome"
  • AIDS is the most advanced stage of HIV infection
  • Many people take powerful and effective combinations of medicines to fight the virus; however, there is no cure for AIDS

What Is the Difference Between HIV and AIDS?

  • Someone can be infected with HIV for many years with no signs of disease, or only mild-to-moderate symptoms
  • The CDC identifies someone as having AIDS if he or she is living with HIV and has one or both of these conditions:

    • At least one AIDS-defining opportunistic infection (see a list of opportunistic infections in our article on AIDS Defining Conditions)
    • A CD4 cell count of 200 cells or less (a normal CD4 count is about 600 to 1,500)
  • When people are diagnosed with HIV, they will always live with HIV. Regardless of how low their viral load may be -- even if it becomes "undetectable" -- they will never go back to being HIV-negative.

For more facts, see The Well Project's article: What Is HIV?


How Is HIV Spread?

HIV is spread through the following body fluids:

  • Blood (including menstrual blood)
  • Semen ("cum") and other male sexual fluids ("pre-cum")
  • Vaginal fluids
  • Breast milk

HIV is not spread through these body fluids:

  • Sweat
  • Tears
  • Saliva (spit)
  • Urine
  • Feces

The most common ways HIV is passed from one person to another are:

  • Re-using and sharing needles and other drug equipment ("works") for injecting drugs (including steroids or hormones)
  • Unprotected/unsafe sex (no condoms or other barrier devices)
  • Mother-to-child (during pregnancy, birth, or breast-feeding)

How Can HIV Be Prevented?

One of the most important messages you can share with your children is that HIV can be prevented. HIV cannot be transmitted except when certain body fluids are exchanged. Teach your children that they can greatly reduce the risk of transmission by:

  • Avoiding contact with sexual fluids by always practicing safer sex (using condoms or other barrier methods)
  • Abstaining from sex unless they and their partners are both HIV-negative and in a long-term, monogamous relationship
  • Not injecting drugs, or if they do, always using new, clean needles and other drug equipment

It is also important to tell children that HIV is not transmitted by casual contact such as:

  • Being a friend to someone who is living with HIV
  • Hugging
  • Dancing
  • Sharing food or drinks
  • Using a shower, bath, or bed used by a person living with HIV
  • Kissing (between people with no significant dental problems, such as bleeding gums or open sores)
  • Sharing exercise equipment or a swimming pool

For more information, see The Well Project's Article: HIV Transmission.

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This article was provided by The Well Project. Visit The Well Project's Web site to learn more about their resources and initiatives for women living with HIV. The Well Project shares its content with to ensure all people have access to the highest quality treatment information available. The Well Project receives no advertising revenue from or the advertisers on this site. No advertiser on this site has any editorial input into The Well Project's content.

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