AIDS, short for Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome, is a fatal disease that was first reported in the United States in mid-nineteen eighty-one. Now a worldwide epidemic, AIDS is caused by the Human Immunodeficiency Virus or H-I-V, which destroys the immune system. People infected with AIDS do not die from the disease itself, but from secondary, opportunistic infections, such as pneumonia. H-I-V is transmitted through infected blood, semen, and vaginal secretions. People often become infected one of three ways: having sex with an infected person, sharing contaminated needles or syringes, and infected mothers spreading the virus to their babies during pregnancy or delivery. AIDS is not transmitted by casual contact, such as touching, sneezing, or kissing. The incubation period, from the point of exposure to HIV to the development of AIDS, ranges from three to over ten years. There may be no symptoms during this period, and an infected person may pass on the virus without knowing he or she has it. There is no cure or vaccine for AIDS at this time. However, individuals can take measures to prevent becoming infected. Using a latex condom during sex may help to prevent transmission of the virus. Blood tests are available to detect HIV infection and testing is encouraged for those who are known to be at risk. Many communities offer anonymous testing at public health clinics. For more information on AIDS, contact your health care provider.

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