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Talking With Your Children About HIV: HIV Awareness for Children

January 2013

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HIV is a tough subject for parents, guardians, and caregivers to discuss with their children. However it is important that all families have this discussion. 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 HIV+, or you simply want to help your child understand HIV so that he or she does not become infected.

Around the world, young people ages 15 to 24 accounted for two of every five new HIV infections in 2011. An estimated 1.6 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) report that young people ages 13 to 29 account for 39 percent of all new HIV infections in the U.S. – more than any other age group. In 2009, 46 percent 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 alarming statistics remind parents that they cannot afford to avoid talking with their children about HIV. For more information, see our info sheet 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 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 HIV+ and has one or both of these conditions:

    • At least one AIDS-defining opportunistic infection (see list of OIs in our info sheet called 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 as HIV+, they will always be HIV+. Regardless of how low their viral load, they will never go back to being HIV-negative. Similarly, when people are diagnosed as having AIDS, they will always have AIDS. Even after taking medication and having their immune system recover -- even when they do not feel sick anymore -- they will never be "un-diagnosed" with AIDS and go back to being only HIV+.

For more facts, see our info sheet: 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 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 using injection drugs, or if they do, always using new, clean needles

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

  • Being a friend to someone who is HIV +
  • Hugging
  • Dancing
  • Sharing food or drinks
  • Using a shower, bath, or bed used by an HIV+ person
  • 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 our info sheet: 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.
See Also
Quiz: Are You at Risk for HIV?
10 Common Fears About HIV Transmission
More HIV Prevention Guides for Parents

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